PRASA’s R600-million trains unsafe for South Africa


Opposition parties have lashed out at government after a weekend newspaper report revealed that the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (PRASA) 13 locomotives from Spanish manufacturer, Vossloh España, were unsuitable for local conditions.

According to Rapport, the roofs of the R600-million Afro 4000 locomotives, which forms part of a R3.5-billion order for 70 similar units, exceeded the 3 965 mm height limit imposed for diesel locomotives, by measuring 4 264 mm.

The paper also alleges that senior Transnet engineers were aware of the problem despite previous warnings, and that some even feared the trains, earmarked for long distance use, would damage overhead cables when on routes also utilising electricity.

In April, PRASA indicated that it would allocate 10 of the locomotives for use in the Eastern Cape, and that full operation would commence the same month after a three month evaluation process. Delivery of the first batch of four took place at the Cape Town harbour in January.

Speaking in a statement, DA Shadow Minister for Transport Manny de Freitas accused PRASA and Transport Minister Dipuo Peters of lying to Parliament about the suitability of the trains, adding that the party would ask National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete to take action against the Minister.

“Earlier this year, the DA submitted Parliamentary a question to the Minister asking why the trains ordered differed in dimension from the requirements,” de Freitas said.

“The Minister replied that “The new locomotives are not different in any form…The new locomotives are within the required scale. Clearly the Minister has misled Parliament and been loose with the truth with regard to the dimensions of the new trains. By ordering trains that do not fit on our country’s train tracks, Prasa has acted recklessly and without proper and due consideration”.

In a similar response, EFF National Spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, branded the purchase as a “reckless use of taxpayers funds” and that action needs to be taken against PRASA CEO, Lucky Montana.

“We have reason to suspect that bribes may have been exchanged in the cheerful procurement of these ‘defective’ locomotives from a company that was found guilty of price collusion in Germany in 2012,” he said.

“The CEO of PRASA is already facing numerous allegations of corruption. The Minister must immediately place him under suspension without pay and a full investigation on corruption allegations against him be instituted.

“The Minister must also immediately suspend all these contracts of defective locomotives which are not locally manufactured. This procurement of foreign manufactured locomotives not only is a waste of taxpayers funds but also makes a complete farce of the ANC government claim to be promoting localisation of production, beneficiation and industrialisation,” Ndlozi said, adding that the party would submit the matter to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

In a strongly worded statement, Congress of the People (Cope) Spokesperson, Dennis Bloem, said that questions about the trains were inevitable, and that Peters’ promising of a new era in public transport at the unveiling, had left government with “egg on its face”.

“Indeed‚ there are serious legal and career consequences for all those who acted in defiance of explicit warnings and rules. Prasa ignored the warnings of the engineers. They had pointed out‚ we understand‚ that the height of the trains rendered them unsuitable for South African use. Prasa‚ notwithstanding that explicit warning‚ persisted in going ahead. Surely‚ the height of any vehicle is always a primary consideration.

“If these diesel locomotives are not suitable for the long distance routes Prasa wanted to use them on‚ what happens to the R600-million that Prasa already spent? Is this government and parastatals never going to get a single big contract right? We will certainly want the ministers to come before Parliament to account for yet another giant cock-up‚ if the allegations are true,” he said.


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