'War room' working to get Prasa back on track as passenger trips plunge

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa says a "war room" - established to improve the state-owned entity’s fortunes - is already at work, a month after it was launched.

Passenger trips plunged from 634 million in 2010 to 208 million in the 2018-19 financial year, a 67% decrease during the period. 

The agency was briefing a parliamentary oversight committee on Wednesday about its strategic and annual performance plans. This comes after the passenger rail service appointed an interim board in April 2018 to get its house in order after years of allegations of mismanagement and poor management.

The board's term was extended in April 2019. The rail agency has suspended or sacked a number of senior staff following internal investigations. 

The Prasa delegation, led by chair Khanyisile Kweyama, told MPs on Wednesday that its operational performance had suffered over the past decade, with annual passenger trips falling to 208 million in the 2018-19 financial year, from 269 million in the previous year. 

Previous strategies failed

In its submission, the delegation said it had accepted that turnaround strategies in recent years had failed to produce the desired results.

"Over the past seven years, Prasa achieved 33.2% on average on all its determined key performance indicators. The modernisation of infrastructure is behind by three years. Prasa went from 634 million passenger trips recorded during 2010 to 269 million passenger trips recorded in 2017," the submission said.

Prasa said its war room, launched by Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula in August, was working on monitoring progress on a 100-day commitment to improving service, safety and security, while accelerating the agency's capitalisation. 

"The establishment of the war room, run by a technical task team, with in-depth knowledge and experience in rail operations, will assess the day-to-day service performance, identify issues that hamper performance and is tasked with quick recommendations on how to resolve them," the submission said.

The agency said the technical task team meets daily for status meetings to assess service levels and consider interventions to improve the agency's performance.