Photo: Alet Pretorius
  • In August transport minister Fikile Mbalula opened a "war room" at the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) to stop the deterioration of its commuter train services.
  • In eight weeks, the unit says, the on-time performance for passenger trains has improved to 63%, from 55%, or by nearly 15%. 
  • Other successes include increases in ticket purchases in certain regions, and a decline in railways under speed restrictions. 
  • For more visit Business Insider.

In less than eight weeks of operation it has increased the on-time performance of South African commuter trains by 15%, the "war room" at the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) says.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula launched the war room in Johannesburg on August 8 to address the continued deterioration of Prasa and its various divisions’ services, including Metrorail. 

At the time, Mbalula said the war room will be able to make rapid decisions based on information gathered from the operations on the ground. 

He set the war room various targets to achieve by December 31, including improving on-time performance to 85% from 50.2%, improve available train sets to 291 from 157, and reduce railways under speed restrictions to below 100km from 167km. 

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Speaking to Business Insider South Africa, Prasa war room head Sipho Sithole said the unit has been able to improve peak on-time performance across South Africa to 60% in the mornings, from 49% eight weeks ago. 

How Prasa's on-time performance in South Africa im
How Prasa's on-time performance in South Africa improved in eight weeks (supplied)

Afternoon peak on-time performance across the country has improved from 55% to 63%, he said. 

“This is the most important times of the day when most people are trying to get to work or going home. It is therefore extremely important that trains arrive on time during those times,” Sithole said. 

The achievement was made through weekly meetings with all the regions every Wednesday, where progress reports are shared and issues are ironed out, he said. 

Sithole said other improvements include improving the number of people paying for Prasa services in one region in Pretoria, where new trains sets are being used, from 39% to 91%. 

The railway lines under temporary speed restriction because of infrastructure problems, such as lack of electronic signalling, have also declined from 167km to 138km. 

Prasa is now on track to have around 94km of railways under temporary restriction by the end of December, Sithole said. 

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Sithole said the state-owned entity has stepped up procurement and repairs on trains, and is on track to have 191 trainsets by March 2020. 

“The biggest obstacle we are facing is the continued vandalism of railways, stealing of cables, and people using our services for free,” he said. 

To address this, Prasa is planning to spend around R6.5 billion over three years to fence railway lines in urban areas with concrete blocks. 

When the lines have all been fenced, Prasa expects that revenue will increase by R4.6 billion as commuters will no longer be able to jump off before stations, and therefore will have to buy tickets. 

It will also mean less vandalism which will reduce delays caused by signalling cables being stolen. 

“We will then be able to start recovering all the passengers we’ve lost over the years, and start making rail the transport of choice,” Sithole said.