Letters to the Editor: April 20 to 26

Prasa needs to put passenger service back on track

I would like to add a further perspective to your article “Corruption-laden Prasa chugs along”.

Although your article dealt with the clean-up required at the Passenger Rail Authority of South Africa (Prasa), it should possibly have emphasised the role that the board has played in the collapse of the Prasa.

The Prasa board has failed lower-income households who rely on the service as an affordable means of transport.

Over the years I have travelled the Cape Town to Johannesburg route out of the joy of travelling by rail. These trips have illustrated the gradual deterioration of Prasa’s passenger service and the challenges that passengers using the service face.

Some of these challenges start with buying a ticket. At Cape Town Station, you can’t acquire a ticket for a long-distance train trip after 1pm on a Saturday, notwithstanding the fact that the station is one of the busiest in the country.

It also impossible to acquire a ticket on the official website as the central reservations and enquiries button takes you no further.

For about R400 you can travel the Cape Town to Johannesburg route in a sitter coach. For another R300 you get a seat in a relatively comfortable tourist-class coupé. The train service has a dining car with a limited menu. Prasa is unable to supply food for its long-distance passengers, who are expected to cater for themselves.

The service I took last week left punctually at 10am, and as the train crosses the country you are presented with the most spectacular views along with dilapidated Transnet stations, passengers waiting for trains at stations in utter darkness, and not a single functioning electronic arrival and departure board on the entire route.

By the time the train reached Matjiesfontein, the service was about two hours late, arrival at Kimberley was four hours late and the service finally arrived in Johannesburg seven hours late — without apologies.

The tragedy is that passengers arriving at Johannesburg’s Park Station in the dark after hours of delay, and who may have missed critical connections, are left on their own without any further assistance.

I was informed that the delays are caused by defective signals along the lines. The conductor told me this was the worst service he had encountered in 40 years. The disillusioned Prasa train staff do their very best to mitigate poor management.

Passenger rail services across the globe play a crucial role in providing an efficient, safe and affordable service. Railway services are increasingly being seen as the future of long-distance travel but the South African passenger railway service has practically collapsed under Prasa.

A new Prasa board will face a formidable task in placing the passenger rail service back on track. One of the first tasks it should undertake is a train ride across the country. — François Viruly

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