The state of commuter safety in Metrorail

  • 01 Nov 2018 | by #UniteBehind

The state of commuter safety in Metrorail – Blog

The Department of Transport has spent more than R51 billion in a bid to improve and upgrade the commuter rail system service in South Africa. However, this is not reflected in the service commuters receive on a daily basis. As a result, the number of Metrorail passenger trips has declined from 448 million in 2015/2016 to 370 million in 2016/2017 as the Independent Online reported1. Many of these commuters are from the Western Cape.  

State capture at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) has led to the dysfunction of the commuter rail system. In a report released by the Public Protector in 2015 entitled “Derailed”, rampant levels of maladministration, financial mismanagement and tender irregularities at PRASA were found.

The impact of the financial mismanagement and tender irregularities has affected commuters the most. Commuters constantly miss work, lose their pay and leave days, students even miss their exams. Often some commuters lose their jobs as well. Commuters are desperate to get onto trains because they are going to work or school, but regularly this leads to death and injuries as trains are overcrowded.

“Almost 588 people were struck down by the trains. Other major occurrences were 1027 collisions, 744 platform-train interchange occurrences and 450 derailments”

People often run across the tracks, hang out of doors and windows, and also travel between carriages or even ride on the roof. Using trains on a daily basis threatens the lives and livelihood of commuters as their safety is not guaranteed.

The Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) 2017/2018 report estimated that almost 588 people were struck down by the trains. Other major occurrences were 1027 collisions, 744 platform-train interchange occurrences and 450 derailments2. PRASA is the main contributor regarding these operational occurrences.

Brigadier Bonginkosi Solucutho, commander of the Rapid Rail Unit in the Western, Eastern and Northern Capes reported that during the 2017/2018 financial year there were 1,385 incidents of contact crimes reported, and 711 reported incidents of cable theft3.  When questioned on why there are so few arrests, Brigadier Solucutho noted that the CCTV cameras installed at stations have not been working since 2015.

Siyangena Technonolgies was paid billions of rand to install Integrated Security and Access Management Systems at stations that have never worked. This included provision and maintenance of CCTV camera and equipment for control rooms at PRASA stations throughout South Africa. However, the tender was corrupt and is currently going through the courts so that PRASA can recoup the money it lost. This is a tangible example of how state capture has affected commuters. 

In the beginning of October 2018, the RSR issued PRASA with a suspension, this was mainly because PRASA could not demonstrate to the RSR that it has the ability, commitment and resources to guarantee that it can manage the risk of its railway operations whilst ensuring the safety of those who may be affected by the rail system4

PRASA employs approximately 434 security personnel in the Western Cape. However, there are huge problems with these security contractors5. Worryingly, the majority of the security personnel employed at PRASA are not registered with the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA). For some, this is because the employees have criminal records. For others, it’s because they did not receive their PSIRA registration even though were trained by CHIPPA. Military veterans that are employed by PRASA are also not registered because of their criminal records.

The problems in the security personnel at PRASA are widely known6.  

PRASA/Metrorail has failed to prioritise the safety of commuters when they are using their service, and the result is a service that does not adequately provide for the safety of commuters. 

PRASA’s Security Turnaround Operational Plan (STOP) of 2016/17 replaced the National Operational Security Plans to meet the settlement agreement between PRASA and the Rail Commuters Action Group to comply with a judgement of the Constitutional Court.

“PRASA/Metrorail has failed to prioritise the safety of commuters when they are using their service, and the result is a service that does not adequately provide for the safety of commuters.”

It states that it has two main priorities, to prevent asset related theft and vandalism and to ensure that the commuters and staff are safe within the system. The plan says that both are equally important, which is a welcome change from previous plans that talked exclusively about asset protection.

The plan further states mechanisms that it will employ include but are not limited to CCTV cameras, access and egress control system; visitor identification access and egress control systems; a centralised security control room, operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and an electronic occurrence book and incident control. 

Despite the plan being published on the 12th December 2016, most of the above safety and security mechanisms have not been implemented. In a presentation at Parliament to the Portfolio Committee, PRASA stated that for the past 3.5 years, they have lost nearly R636 million on insurance losses due to train fires, with the Western Cape contributing 71 per cent to the losses.

During 2017/2018 a total of 1496 coaches have been vandalised (includes train burnings, windows, doors and light theft, and cable cutting).

Commuters need to see radical improvements in the state of safety on the trains. Last year was the most difficult for those at PRASA who really want to improve the agency.

The terrible legacy of those that engaged in State Capture will take years to undo. However, commuters need to see improvements. PRASA needs to make the stations and trains safe, particularly for vulnerable commuters, like women, children, and the disabled. #UniteBehind will work tirelessly to demand safe trains.

The deployment of the 100 new Rail Enforcement Unit officers is welcomed and it comes at a time when the rail system is in dire need of safety. Especially with the constant arson attacks. However, it is worth noting that the deployment is not enough to assure commuters that they are safe. A lot needs to be done regarding safety and security in trains. This is one of the important steps in the right direction.


1De Freitas, M. (2018) ‘PRASA bleeds  taxpayers’ money’ (Independent Online) 19 September 2018 Available here.

2‘Railway Safety Regulator Launches State of Safety 2017/18’ (Railway News) 26 October 2018. Available here.

3Payne, S. (2018) ‘Another day, another problem for Prasa_this time its disconnect with SAPS’. (Daily Maverick) 27 September 2018 Available here.

4September, E. (2018) ‘System Failure, train fires: Why Metrorail is in dire strait?’ (News24) 23 October 2018. Available here.

5Jones, A. (2018) ‘New leaked reports show why train security has collapsed’ (GroundUp) 30 October 2018. Available here.

6Postman, Z. ‘Exclusive: Damning letter from PRASA manager describes railway security meltdown’ (GroundUp) 5 October 2017. Available here.

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