South Africa’s opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has presented its railway plan to the Competition Commission. This follows the Commission instituting a market inquiry into land-based public passenger transport to ascertain the general state of competition in the sector.

According to Manny de FreitasShadow Minister of Transport, DA, South African train commuters have for years been subjected to unacceptable railway conditions and a lack of choice.

He listed several things he believes contribute to the discomfort of passengers while in transit, including opportunistic criminals who prey on vulnerable passengers, and an unreliable railway system as a result of vandalism and a lack of resources.

He said, this had resulted in a considerable decrease in rail passenger numbers over the past decade.

“The failure of the public railway system lies squarely at the feet of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA). The agency has been beleaguered by mismanagement and corruption. In addition to this, its failure to invest in Metrorail has further exacerbated the troubles in railway services.

“The challenges in rail industry have a direct impact on job security. Workers are often late to their place of employment due to the chronic delays of trains which have resulted in job losses.

“We believe our transport policy will create a railway system, which is safe, well managed, puts commuters first, and ensures a certain level of job security,” said de Freitas.

The plan is based on four aspects:

  1. Stabilising and modernising the current rail system

The Public Protector report, “Derailed”, illuminated the extent of maladministration at PRASA, said de Freitas. He said the failure of governance at the agency had a direct impact of public confidence.

He said, what was required was an urgent update to establish the progress that has been made in upgrading the current signal system so that no manual signal is used. He said this would prevent further unnecessary instances of crashes and derailment.

  1. Merge Transnet and PRASA under the Department of Transport

He said, by merging Transnet and Prasa, all rail-related passenger and freight services would become the direct responsibility of the Minister of Transport. This he said, would streamline decision making and improve planning and integration.

  1. Ceding control of Metrorail services to Metros

De Freitas said if Metropolitan governments could take over Metrorail functions, gradually. this exercise would ensure integrated public transportation systems and better governance.

  1. Diversifying Ownership

While the state should retain ownership of the infrastructure, the ruling party called for the gradual privatisation of some railway operations. This, the party said, would increase competition and choice for transportation in the rail sector.

They said their plan would not only enforce integrated public transportation planning but it would also lead to job security as there would be an efficient transport system devoid of crime.

“We remain committed to the vision of a well-run, corruption free and accountable rail transportation system that puts the safety of South Africans first,” concluded de Freitas.