GEORGE NEWS - Transnet has come under fire for its alleged lack of action during December in dealing with an attempt to sabotage operations of the Outeniqua Power Van.
Operator Nicol Marais was distressed at this happening during the busiest season of the year. On 18 December, the Power Van's trip to Great Brak River was interrupted by a pile of wooden sleepers that had been placed over the railway near Hersham beach.
Passengers had to remove the sleepers before the van could continue. This came after a group of workers had allegedly made threats the week before against the Power Van and Outeniqua Transport Museum, its departure point.
On Tuesday 7 January, Marais informed the George Herald that it had happened again during the morning outing, this time near the golf course in the vicinity of Great Brak Station. Both incidents were reported to the track manager in Voorbaai and the Transnet Control Office in Worcester.
Marais complained that his efforts to get assistance from Transnet during December were fruitless. "All doors at Transnet were closed. I could not find a single official to help me. We however decided to continue our service throughout the season, but we remained vigilant."
Mike Asefovitz, Transnet's executive manager of communications, said Transnet Freight Rail inspected the line in December and declared it safe after the incident. The head of security has requested more visibility along the line and the police has been notified.
"The safety of passengers is paramount to us. We are not turning a blind eye and are doing everything in our power to resolve this."
Contract workers suspected
He said a disgruntled group of former contract workers in the area are the suspects. They are seeking permanent employment. "Transnet has met with them and various community stakeholders in order to manage the situation. At the meeting it was pointed out that Transnet has a small number of vacancies that will be advertised locally this year, but this will follow the normal recruitment process."
Marais is worried that these incidents could lead to the closure of the only functioning railway line out of George.
"It is not only the Power Van that is impacted. We are part of a George tourism package that draws visitors. If Transnet does not properly manage its assets locally, the industry will suffer, with consequences for the local economy."
The George-Oudtshoorn railway has been out of commission since the 2018 fires damaged thousands of sleepers. Repair work was to be completed by August 2019, but Transnet last year said it had fallen behind schedule "due to equipment failure". The closure of this route is impacting operations of the Power Van, Rovos Rail and a freight train that used the line. The George-Knysna line has been closed for more than a decade because of flood damage. In October last year, Transnet said that a decision on whether a concessionaire is to be appointed was imminent, but no announcement has been made.
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