South Africa’s railways are broken – now government plans to hire 5,000 security guards and ‘build a wall’

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula has announced several measures aimed at protecting the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (Prasa’s) valuable rail infrastructure, which has been heavily damaged due to theft and vandalism.

Answering oral questions in parliament on Wednesday (18 November), Mbalula said Prasa has put in place a detailed Recovery Plan to rehabilitate and replace stolen and vandalised infrastructure.

“The affected infrastructure includes the replacement of stolen Overhead Traction Equipment (OHTE), substations, signalling, per way and stations,” he said.

“Of high priority is the two presidential projects, being the Mabopane Corridor in Tshwane and the Central Line in Cape Town. Work on the Mabopane Corridor is nearing completion and is on target to resume phase 1 of services by the end of November 2021.”

One of the new initiatives will see Prasa build concrete walls along identified rail corridors and around substations as an additional measure to improve security.

Mbalula said that these walls are set to be ‘impenetrable’ and ‘vandal proof’, will stand up to a height of four metres, and will be reinforced with additional security measures such as electric fences and CCTV equipment.

He said that Prasa has also relooked at its security deployment strategies, including the armed response patrol patterns, and will be hiring thousands more security guards to protect the valuable infrastructure.

“Over and above the internal security operations, Prasa will be deploying a further 5,000 guards sourced through private security providers during the month of November 2021. (This) will bolster the coverage of its infrastructure with both armed and unarmed guards based on a recent security risk assessment report.”

A 1,000km in 8 months 

While Mbalula’s comments focused on passenger rail infrastructure, the government has warned that continued theft and vandalism is also having a severe impact on commercial operations.

Transnet Freight Rail (TFR), an operating division of state-owned logistics company Transnet,  says the theft of overhead cable and vandalism of its properties has reached ‘unprecedented levels’, with the group reporting over 1,000km of copper cable has been lost between January and October 2021.

This was due to over 600 reported cases of vandalism and theft a month over the same time period, the group said in a statement on Wednesday (10 November).

TFR said that incidents have continued to increase in recent months, with 9.4km of cable stolen on 8 and 9 November alone.

“The rampant theft and vandalism has had a severe impact on freight movements and has a direct impact on TFR’s and customer revenues as we cancel trains daily. Year to date, TFR has cancelled 1,190 trains as a direct result of security-related incidents.

“Many of the incidents take place on high traffic and high volume corridors, moving major bulk commodities for our customers.”

TFR said that the incidents include:

  • The theft of copper cable;
  • Vandalism of substations which are crucial to the running of its electrified fleet;
  • Theft of wiring and cable from locomotives;
  • Theft of wooden rail sleepers.

Combined these incidents have led to damage in the hundreds of millions of rands.


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South Africa’s railways are broken – now government plans to hire 5,000 security guards and ‘build a wall’