CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South Africa’s state-owned rail service PRASA has lost around 636 million rand ($42.5 million) over the past three and a half years due o deliberate train fires, parliament heard on Tuesday.
Most of the fires have occurred in the Western Cape province, which accounted for 71 percent or 451 million rand in damages, a report from the Passenger Rail Agency SA showed as it rolls out drones, armoured vehicles and extra manpower in a bid to halt the wave of arson.
The report did not suggest the reasons for the deliberate sabotage, although poor and late services have at times been enough for frustrated passengers to set trains alight.
South Africa has the continent’s largest railway network, but it has been plagued by mismanagement and under-investment that has seen train use dwindle despite it being the cheapest form of public transportation.
“Commuter service is at its lowest performance levels of all time and is characterised by declining passenger numbers, from 543 million paying passenger trips in 2013/14 and 269 million in 2017/18,” PRASA wrote in a regular performance update to parliament’s transport committee.
PRASA also faces having its operating licence revoked by the regulator after a collision between two trains injured at least 320 people last week.
PRASA approached the courts for an interim order to lift the suspension of the safety permit imposed by the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR) and the matter is due to heard on Oct. 11.
($1 = 14.9393 rand)
Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Ed Stoddard and Alison Williams