Death by manual authorization, terror by signaling defects and collapsing trust at level-crossings. Melting iron was a horrific scene last year as colliding trains competed to make the news. The aging rolling stock is corroding already displaced households, corrugating frustrated faces and finally trains and stations are burnt.
It’s a conversation in crises. Many people can’t wait to afford a car, but most have to weave between buses and taxis. This is how existing entities host our working classes– from an ownership perspective only a 25% can say they are stuck in traffic (42% in terms of mode choice)–the rest of our country commutes. Passenger rail transports a very small but extremely valuable share of the commuting public– lowest income households. Metrorail desperately needs to start making money, without charging higher prices but improving service quality, which is expensive. Accidents tend to follow the media wave but we’re not prompt with sustained effort toward instilling a safety culture as Prof. Maluleke puts it, specifically for PRASA as shown in the extract below. Safety education is probably more about stimulating confidence in taking action as a byproduct of building the capacity of public officials as Dr Hewson argues about road transport. The problem is profoundly systemic. Here are some thoughts and a list of news clips on the topic at the end.
In another post there are notes about the land passenger transport crisis in brief. The link stays put. But at PRASA, boards are being shuffled while passenger volumes plummet, long distance services are heavily subsidized and unprompted with the same weight. Political economic entities like PRASA suffer from exposure to anti-robot traditional decision making. Traditional in the application of economics itself, I suspect (but I’m no expert). But this will go unproved on my part for some time. Accidents in railways are unlikely, but devastating– in Mabopane, Denmark, Ankara (Turkey), Yilan (Taiwan), anywhere in the world.
What does government do under such circumstances? Pump more capital into the centipede and learn to regulate are my long term two cents.
So PRASA is not only a rail agency. It employs its infrastructure and assets to host business, industry and education– similar to Transnet Ltd. Railway operations, services and management are unusual occupations partly because we’ve not unlocked a hidden skill set. Here’s a theory. What is main reason why graduates who could increase the chances of innovative contributions to such problems are unemployed? Probably because industry has not unlocked the skill set effectively, socio-demographic characteristics (not just gender), proximity to opportunities and so on. This is the main reason why Training and Education Authorities exist to propel skills development, but not nurture entrepreneurship, employment and invention. Institutions aren’t as talented as communities are when it comes to nurturing ideas, happier, safer, protective and connected communities.
While Metrorail chews on families, displaced in a manner that perpetuates expensive inconveniences. PRASA has a property arm, which tends to do well. CRES has the capacity to develop affordable housing precincts. Yes, it’s difficult, but developers can innovate and understand that transport services depend on how communities are organised. Introduced as the tentacles of apartheid’s artificial policy of racial segregation, “apartheid planning ” has its roots in both an extension of the colony and modernism. Transport infrastructure has a terrible tendency of dividing communities, sometimes for better and other times for worse.
While many countries gained some degree of independence, SA was wrapped in apartheid. In 1994 when American universities were vomiting graduates in mathematics, computer science and engineering who now propagate, for instance the World Wide Web, my parents were in line voting for the first time. At this point we are rolled up land issues, while the machinery is laid bare for all to see– that’s why the cables are stolen, criminals and at risk men know their worth.
CRES and other public agencies have the capacity, the platform and development impact to develop communities and property. Some call it value capture, others call it transit oriented development. If we think mixed use like the tuck shop, Kota place, energy station, crèche and school in one area then we might as well insure that people can live and work close by. That should cut travel time, keep people off roads and justify more trains! More people, more trains (frequency).
Globally, people have a tolerance for travel for about 1hour. But many of our cities are perpetually stuck in traffic jams and the Gautrain slips into the high subsidy and very crowded train it reportedly is. PRASA struggles with telecoms, payment systems and other elements that are key for making the services attractive. Then again, why would anyone be attracted to a transport service that is overcrowded, in some cases dangerous, in others funny, prolific and inspired?
New train-sets are an instrumental part of pulling the weight and placing upward pressure on the technical requirements of operating. In other words, they can be faster, be better designed but the new trainsets should force PRASA to up its technical requirements and hires. The level of operational disciple and competence that is required to manage an entity of this magnitude is intriguing. However, all the right pieces of the puzzle need to be useful. I thought trains were supposed to evolve with technology, but the thing is people need to use technology, industries need to make technology, communities need to live. To save lives, this time we might actually have to work on more than the SoE alone.
Metrorail however needs to update its services to the same extent it needs to update its website. In an age where websites can be managed in the cloud, from a cellphone, watch etc. A bad website fir such a large organization makes one wonder who maintains it, are the trains that bad too? There are amazing entities doing cool stuff for non-mainstream Railway Information Systems. Moving Gauteng is a prime time real time all the time platform for train information and text responsiveness. GoMetro Pro has also been deeply involved with PRASA to pilot some platform. However, applications and services are not the source of development. For the purposes of the Rail Policy, education, rail industrial capacity, law enforcement and economic regulation are the most important. If these were targeted directly, Metrorail will unlock its rolling stock from the political economy of crowded teeth in chains. In one of the videos, someone is wailing so painfully these words mean nothing without deeds.
Other links on this issue: