South Africa’s state-owned rail service PRASA lost around R636 million ($42.5 million) over the past three and a half years due to deliberate train fires, parliament heard.
Most fires occurred in Western Cape, which accounted for 71% or R451 million in damages, a report by the Passenger Rail Agency SA showed as it rolls out drones, armoured vehicles and extra manpower in a bid to halt the wave of arson.
The report did not suggest reasons for the deliberate sabotage, although poor and late services have at times been enough for frustrated passengers to set trains alight.
South Africa has the continent’s largest railway network, but it has been plagued by mismanagement and under-investment that has seen train use dwindle despite it being the cheapest form of public transport.
“Commuter service is at its lowest performance level and is characterised by declining passenger numbers, from 543 million paying passenger trips in 2013/14 to 269 million in 2017/18,” PRASA wrote in a regular performance update to parliament’s transport committee.
PRASA faces having its operating licence revoked by the regulator after a collision between two trains injured at least 320 people last week.
PRASA approached the courts for an interim order to lift the suspension of the safety permit imposed by the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR) and the matter is due to heard on October 11.