The Standing Committee on Appropriations conducted an oversight visit to Prasa Braamfontein Rolling Stock depot and inspected the new locomotives that form part of Prasa’s rolling stock renewal programme.
The Committee noted that the Chairman’s report to the Committee that the Prasa Board will provide a comprehensive report to Parliament on recent reports in the media regarding Prasa operations. The Committee welcomed the Board Chairperson’s indication that Prasa remains a viable and capable state agency and that funds allocated to the agency will be directed to service delivery programmes as contained in its long-term plan.
During the oversight the Committee did a walkabout at the Braamfontein Depot and inspected the new AFRO 4000 diesel locomotives.
The Committee raised concerns about the state of rail safety in the current commuter rail network. In addition, the Committee also queried the safety of the newly acquired AFRO 4000 trains, in particular their height specifications. The Rail Safety Regulator submitted to the Committee that maintenance of signal equipment remains a significant challenge to safety in commuter rail transport. Prasa submitted that the new trains do meet regulated safety specifications, although the overhead power lines in some areas may be lower than the required standard height due to maintenance backlogs, thus posing safety concerns.
Prasa reported that it is in ongoing discussions with the Rail Safety Regulator to ensure that the safety of commuters will not be compromised in the new fleet rolling stock. The Committee impressed upon Prasa that the rolling stock programme should be comprehensive and issues of safety and sustainability should be catered for adequately.
The visit forms part of the Committee’s mandate of ensuring that government funding adheres to the principles of efficiency and effectiveness of government passenger rail services. The 2015 budget framework priority focus areas include investment in rail infrastructure and rolling stock to improve the reliability of commuter transport services.
The Committee engaged with officials from Prasa on its rolling stock fleet renewal programme. Prasa’s capital expenditure is financed from government grants and external borrowings. The agency spent R6.2bn on capital investment during 2013/14 financial year, the previous year the rail entity spent R6.3bn.
The Committee notes that the first train is scheduled for delivery on 30 November 2015. In terms of testing and commissioning of the new trains, the Wolmerton Test Facility will be ready by November 2015, as will the test track for dynamic tests and the 120km tests section. Prasa indicated that it will be ready to deploy the new trains for commuter use by July 2016.
The Committee views it as critical that planning and implementation of Prasa’s modernisation strategy should also include detailed projections of revenue estimates and issues of sustainability should be fully considered. This also entails fleet growth projections that are in line with South Africa’s economic growth projections. Furthermore, Prasa should ensure that cost breakdowns of its capital projections are provided for in its budget plans. The Committee welcomed the submission by Prasa that its current contract for 600 new trains for 10 years will have no hedging exposure.
The Committee believes that long-term procurement is a key lever for the state in driving industrialisation and localisation. The Committee supports Prasa’s aims to attain an average percentage share of 75% of local manufacturing content in the new fleet. The Committee welcomes Prasa’s submission that the black economic empowerment partner in the manufacture and supply of the 600 new trains will mainly consist of small micro and medium enterprises.
The Committee raised concerns at the finalisation of the local manufacturing factory in Dunnottar Park in Erkuhuleni, as the selected site is currently vacant. The local factory will manufacture 580 new trains. Prasa indicated that the Gibela Consortium will be responsible for the development of the factory and at the end of the programme Prasa will retain the factory and all tools and equipment. Prasa submitted to the Committee that the factory will be operational by July 2016. The Committee impressed upon Prasa that it will closely monitor the process of finalising the Dunnotarr Park manufacturing facility and thus localisation of the manufacturing of trains.
The Committee will in the following days visit Prasa’s Signalling Programmes Nerve Centres in Gauteng.