The torching of trains at two Durban stations is going to set back the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) more than R9 million, adding to an already hefty insurance bill which is threatening to make it uninsurable.
Speaking at a press briefing in reaction to commuters allegedly setting trains alight at the Durban and Berea Stations on Wednesday, acting group chief executive Cromet Molepo they would take a tougher stance on damage to Prasa infrastructure.
KZN chief of security Rajan Haripersad said the trouble had started when a power failure caused by broken wires caused delays and forced the movement of trains to decrease from 12 to three platforms during the hometime rush on Wednesday.
“.Our staff came under serious attack…The commuters became so aggressive that they wanted to attack the train crew, put them into the coaches and set them alight,” said Haripersad.
After rescuing the staff, they used 14 fire extinguishers to contain the fire and prevent it from spreading to more coaches. When the smoke cleared, there was damage totalling R5.8 million at Berea, and R3.5 million at Durban Station.
Police spokeswoman Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said a case of malicious damage to property was being investigated and no arrests had yet been made.
Just in the financial year ending next month, Prasa had incurred R442 million in losses, which was twice as much as the previous year, said Molepo.
This was due to various factors including vandalism and damage due to the Durban storm in October last year.
“Our insurance claims were R292 million. During the same period, what we pay for insurance also almost doubled from R48 million to about R78 million. This year we are in the process of negotiating new insurance policies. We are getting to a stage where we will become uninsurable if we don’t make progress in terms of arresting the attack on the system,” he said.
Molepo said only 5% of people arrested for vandalising trains were successfully prosecuted. A contributing factor to this is that staff unwittingly destroyed evidence, working hard to make repairs and get trains back on the rails quickly.”
For the safety of staff, Prasa was introducing push-to-talk cellphones and panic buttons for train drivers.
“In all high risk areas, we have to have security guards behind the driver and two at the back of the train. We have a duty to provide a safe working environment for our staff,” he said.
Chairman of United Commuters’ Voices, Zwabesho Shange, distanced the organisation from the increasing incidents of vandalism. “We don’t regard those as commuters, we just simply regard them as criminals and are saying loud and clear that the law should takes its course to deal with them.”
Damage to property and security issues
* 460 coaches vandalised between April and September 2017.
* R442 million incurred in losses due to – among others – vandalism and the October 2017 storm that swamped Durban (over one financial year).
* 9000 calls received from train drivers in a year seeking authorisation to continue driving because they cannot rely vandalised rail signaling.
* 5% of the people arrested for vandalism are successfully prosecuted.