The Democratic Alliance (DA) says that the numerous allegations that have recently emerged against the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) are extremely worrying.
Prasa Group CEO‚ Lucky Montana, on Monday defended the compliance of the Afro 4000 locomotives to meet local standards.
Prasa invited the media to ride the locomotives in Pretoria after a weekend in which the rail company again came under fire for the size of the trains, and their ability to meet the standards of the current infrastructure in SA.
The Rapport newspaper reported that Prasa’s own engineers warned that the Afro 4000 locomotives are too high and should be lowered.
The newspaper said that Prasa wanted to lower the height of the diesel locomotives from well over 4 metres to 3.965 metres.
The reason is that the current height of 4.14 metres is seen as dangerous because they will come very close to the height of poorly maintained overhead power lines.
However, Vossloh Espana, the manufacturer of the trains, said that lowering the height was not possible at such a late stage.
The thirteen Afro 4000 diesel locomotives that have so far been delivered to Prasa are worth R600 million and form part of a larger R3.5 billion order for 70 new locomotives.
Manny de Freitas, shadow minister of Transport, said on Tuesday (14 July), that given the billions of taxpayers’ money involved, it is crucial that Parliament have full oversight of the issue and that answers are provided by Prasa and the Minister.
“Prasa cannot continue to lurch from crisis to crisis without being held to account,” he said.
De Freitas said he will write to the Transport Committee Chairperson, Dikeledi Magadzi, to request that she summon the Minister of Transport, Dipuo Peters, and Prasa to account for all the allegations.
The DA said that the following allegations must be answered:
- Prasa imported 13 brand new diesel trains, to the value of R600 million, that are too tall for the local rail lines on long distance routes for which they are intended. This was despite being warned by senior railways engineers that the new trains are too tall for local use and could damage the overhead electrical cables on the country’s rail lines.
- Mr Daniel Mtimkulu, Head of Engineering Services Prasa, claims to have obtained an engineering degree from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) before studying in Germany to get his doctorate. Yet Wits has not been able to find any record of Mr Mtimkulu studying at the University.
- Prasa failed to hedge the exchange rate on the contract for the new trains, effectively meaning that the original cost of R3.5 billion of the trains increased to nearly R5 billion due to the Rand depreciating against the Euro, and could continue to increase as exchange rates change.
- Prasa will apparently carry out ‘maintenance’ to some lines in the Western Cape in what appears to be an attempt to disguise the raising of the height of overhead cables so that the new trains will fit.
The DA said it has already written to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Transport to request that she summon Prasa and Mr Mtimkulu to present his qualifications and answer the allegations against him.
Prasa said on Friday that it would investigate the allegations.