Mbalula announces plans to improve railway system as strike looms

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said an immediate priority was the urgent implementation of interventions to deal with the struggling Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula at 2019 Southern African Transport Conference. Picture: Abigail Javier/EWN

CAPE TOWN - Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has announced a number of initiatives to improve the country’s ailing passenger rail system.

Mbalula has on Wednesday briefed the media on some of the department’s priorities like the rail network, bus rapid transit systems and the maritime sector.

He also took the time to announce the appointment of Alec Moemi as the new permanent director-general of transport.

The transport minister said an immediate priority was the urgent implementation of interventions to deal with the struggling Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa).

He said this would include the training of safety officers by the police service to improve safety on trains.

“This exercise must lead to direct insourcing of at least 80% of security personnel by Prasa. These security officers must receive their basic training from the South Africa Police service and I’ve discussed this with [Police] Minister [Bheki] Cele.”

Mbalula said the department would continue to change the face of public transport by introducing integrated public transport networks in five additional cities.

“We’ll be operationalizing integrated public transport networks, also known as BRT, across five additional cities of Mbombela, eThekwini, Rustenburg, Polokwane and Mangaung over the next nine months.”

Meanwhile, the United National Transport Union (Untu) said a nationwide rail strike would go ahead on Friday.

Marches would be held in Cape Town, Johannesburg Pretoria and Durban.

Untu and Fedusa hope thousands of workers would down keys as they call on President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare the rail system a crisis and a state of emergency.

Untu's Sonja Carstens said: “We’ve got a whole list of demands but basically we’d like members of the army to be deployed to patrol and safeguard our rail lines in South African.”

Carstens said the safety of commuters and staff was of great concern.

“We’d like to provide a safe working environment for all our members.”