Railways AfricaTM

Issue: 1 - 2018

Two serious train accidents, occurring just days apart in early January, propelling rail safety in South Africa into one of the most hotly debated issues of the new year. And rightly so. Proactive action has to be taken by all rail stakeholders if we are to develop effective strategies to combat the myriad of issues our beleaguered national rail environment currently faces – namely the wanton theft and criminality that constantly grinds our rail network to a halt, the general lack of safety and the lowering of professional standards in the industry.

Fortunately, as bleak as the situation may seem right now, light is starting to appear at the end of the tunnel. Industry players are beginning to put their differences aside and heads together in order to come up with pragmatic solutions. Granted, the process has just begun, but it's definitely a move in the right direction. Rail can so easily become the economic driver that unlocks our country's potential. And, as such, Railways Africa supports any initiative that works towards making this become a reality.

With this in mind, our first issue of 2018 is dedicated to the rail safety debate. We spoke to rail specialist Kevin Pillay, Siemens Vice President Mobility Division South Africa, on his thoughts on what factors the African continent, including South Africa, needs to concentrate on to deliver efficient passenger services going forward. Unsurprisingly, here at home, his main concern is the unprecedented levels of crime that are undermining the rail industry's efforts to improve the situation for commuters.

The Institution of Railway Signal Engineers (IRSE) – a non-profit professional institution for employees engaged in or associated with railway signalling and telecommunications – is extremely concerned about the slipping professional standards in the rail industry and non-adherence to established safety practices. As a result, they have named their new focus for 2018 “Closing the Skills Gap” and are calling on all rail professionals to get involved.

To get a workers' perspective on the situation, we spoke to United National Transport Union (UNTU) General Secretary, Steve Harris. In his interview, he paints a bleak picture when illustrating how the combination of ageing rolling stock and criminality is negatively impacting rail workers on the ground. Harris then discusses some of the inefficient operational procedures he believes need changing for the rail industry to become more efficient and improve working conditions for his members. Finally, he explains exactly why the manual authorisation of trains cause such long delays, and calls for the understanding of both commuters and employers alike.

We wrap up our safety focus with the Rail Safety Regulator's board chairperson, Dr Nomusa Zethu Qunta, where she shares some of the issues that concern her when it comes to the lack of a rail safety culture in South Africa. She firmly believes that all rail stakeholders need to forge closer working relationships with each other so they can collaborate on common issues more effectively. And the good news, she says, is that this is starting to happen.

And, as always, we bring you a good dose of continental rail news to help keep you updated on all the latest industry developments. Speaking of which, do yourself a favour and check out all the transport-related feedback contained in the recently released Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) Implementation Progress Report 2017. This extensive report spells out the state of all big infrastructure projects on the continent and is well worth the read.

The editorial theme for our next issue will be Track Infrastructure and, as always, you are invited to send us your submissions.