The greatest threat to personal safety on SA’s rail networks is on trains and properties belonging to the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), accor

The greatest threat to personal safety on SA’s rail networks is on trains and properties belonging to the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), according to the Railway Safety Regulator’s latest safety report.

The State of Safety Report, which covers 2016-17, highlights crime — cable theft and damage to signalling equipment in particular — as a leading cause of abnormal train operations and reportable operational occurrences such as train collisions and derailments. Together, Prasa and Transnet account for 97% of the reported events, with Transnet Freight Rail accounting for 43% and Prasa Rail for 57%.

The report does not include the apparent spike in rail safety and security events over the past six months, but there are almost-daily media reports of events in which people have been at risk.

The regulator does, however, confirm a rising trend in security-related events. Despite a 5% decrease in operational occurrences, 6,379 security-related incidents were recorded, an increase of 13%, compared with 2015-16.

These events have resulted in 495 deaths and 2,079 people injured, the report says. Of these the number of deaths directly related to crime rose 14% to 16 deaths, while injuries were up 13% to 466 people hurt.

While theft constitutes 69% of all railway security-related incidents, the safety report singles out Metrorail, a unit in the Prasa Rail division, as bearing the brunt of acts of vandalism, especially malicious acts of arson, with an apparent disproportionate number of crimes committed in the Western Cape.

Since 2010, SA’s railway system has experienced one extrinsic railway incident and one intrinsic operator occurrence every 16 minutes, the report finds.

It says close to 60% of all occurrences can be directly attributed to human factors, while perway defects contributed 23% and rolling stock-related causes added 10%. Most safety incidents reported by Prasa are related to people.

In his foreword, regulator CEO Nkululeko Poya says analyses of root causes of the investigation outcomes show this as overwhelming. “Aspects such as understaffing of safety critical grades, poor levels of supervision, communication deficiencies, when combined with other root causes such as theft and vandalism, signalling and infrastructure defects, remain areas of concern.”

The highest numbers are in in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, and involve mainly the Metrorail service. Cape Town accounts for the highest number of reportable events in the country.

Metrorail’s spokesperson for the Western Cape, Riana Scott, said this week that in addition to Metrorail Protection Services Unit, the Rapid Rail Response Unit and contracted security, the entity had deployed 88 additional armed guards, obtained forensic capability, armoured vehicles, night vision and drone surveillance.

The region planned to spend R68m to wall or fence 15km either side of railway tracks where vandalism is most prevalent, the triangle Langa-Nyanga-Netreg, she said. “In total R292m will be spent this year to further protect critical assets and on target hardening of strategic infrastructure.”

The DA said on Thursday that South Africans had lost faith in the country’s railway services and this had resulted in a drop in rail passenger numbers over the past decade. “However, millions of commuters, with no other alternative, still struggle on a daily basis just to get to work and school on time.”

The DA, which controls the provincial government and the City of Cape Town, said Cape Town’s central railway line was “beset with crises ranging from criminals preying on passengers, to vandalism and arson and chronic delays”.

ISS consultant Andrew Faull said Cape Town’s layout might be conducive to a higher proportion of residents using trains than in other cities where the rail network and city planning made other forms of transport more affordable or convenient. “If more people in Cape Town and the Western Cape travel on trains than in other provinces, it would make sense that there would be more crime on or related to trains.”