Johannesburg - The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), which operates the Metrorail commuter service, has put together a 90-day action plan to deal with numerous problems with its services, CEO Tshepo Lucky Montana said on Tuesday.
Prasa has received a R19.5bn grant from the government to recapitalise its ageing fleet - one of the key sources of its problems.
The average age of its carriages is 40 years, which means trains are unreliable and breakages frequent. Montana said each train has a 100% probability of breaking down once every 48 hours.
Aside from spending money on fixing trains, Prasa has also put together a plan to fix operational inefficiencies.
For example, response to train failures takes anything from an hour and 40 minutes to two hours due to complicated bureaucratic reporting systems.
The standard response to failures on trains is supposed to be 40 minutes. Under the action plan, the process will be simpler and faster.
Prasa Rail CEO Mosenngwa Mofi, who will oversee the rescue plan, said additional maintenance will now be carried out on the trains. This will happen in the evenings and on weekends in order not to disrupt the traffic flow.
Cracking the whip
Middle management incompetency is another big problem for the group.
Montana said station managers do not discipline workers and as a result train drivers arrive late - pushing daily schedules into dissaray.
In certain cases, train drivers do not bother to turn up at all; they have on other occasions arrived for work drunk, putting the safety of passengers at work.
Another effect of the chaos reigning at stations is long queues at ticket offices.
"There's a big problem with supervision; managers are not doing their jobs," said Montana.
Prasa has taken the decision to get rid of all ineffective managers by retrenching a third of this portion of its work force.
"I have communicated this to my employees. I am cracking the whip," said Montana.
Prasa will also test employees to ensure they are fit to drive trains. This follows an accident last week when a train driver was killed as a result of human error.
Although the tests should be already be taking place, Mofi said they are not being conducted regularly.
In the long term, Prasa will undertake a R97bn, 18-year upgrade of all of its trains, more than a third of which will be obsolete by 2013.
This upgrade is in its feasibility phase and it is still unclear what the funding sources will be.
Prasa manages 374 stations in metropolitan areas around the country and transports 2.4 million passengers each day. It employs 13 000 people.