President Cyril Ramaphosa has instructed the Minister of Transport, Dr Blade Nzimande, to urgently address challenges plaguing commuter rail agency, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa).
The President held a meeting with Nzimande at Tuynhuys in Cape Town on Tuesday following the President's first-hand experience on the difficulties regularly experienced by commuters when he boarded a train from Mabopane to Tshwane CBD on Monday.
Among the challenges raised at the meeting was the deterioration of infrastructure and unacceptable delays of train services, which often result in commuters arriving late for work, school and other commitments. Passenger and driver safety also received attention.
The President stressed the need for a safe, reliable and integrated public transport system to support the country's economic development aspirations.
While appreciating that Prasa is currently implementing one of the largest urban rail modernisation programmes in the world, the President said the agency's failure to implement its turnaround plans and, in the process, pay due attention to critical rail operational functions, is a cause for concern.
He has directed immediate action to strengthen governance by stabilising the leadership at board level and filling critical vacancies, including that of the Group Chief Executive Officer.
The President has also called for practical and urgent action to bridge the gap between the turnaround strategies developed and their day-to-day implementation.
He has directed that a capable and skilled team of specialists should be established to conduct due diligence on the rail network to determine the extent of challenges.
Urgent action is required to accelerate the implementation of the R172 billion modernisation programme meant to eliminate challenges occasioned by aged infrastructure.
Nzimande is expected to make announcements in due course on the delivery of these commitments and other actions to be undertaken to restore service performance at Prasa.
The President has further welcomed the imminent introduction of 24 new train sets in Gauteng to augment the 18 new sets delivered last year. He said this intervention will go a long way to improve train availability and performance.
The increase in rolling stock availability from 160 to 260 sets during the current financial year is expected to alleviate the burden in other parts of the country.
President Ramaphosa accepts that there are longstanding challenges at Prasa that will require substantial resources and several years to address. He believes, however, that there are immediate steps that can be taken to increase efficiency and improve the daily experiences of commuters.
"There is no reason commuters should have to endure frequent delays or feel unsafe on our trains. This is a problem that we can work together to solve," President Ramaphosa said.