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PRASA welcomes ban on trade of scrap metal

Christian Fernsby |
The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) has welcomed government’s decision to ban the trade of scrap metal, as it will significantly improve its ability to run trains and protect the rail infrastructure.

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“The theft of cables and metals have badly damaged our network. It is more than theft, it is sabotage of economic infrastructure,” PRASA’s Acting Group CEO Hishaam Emeran said on Wednesday.

PRASA said the ban on trade in scrap metal will make it more difficult for thieves to ransack the passenger rail assets.

The ban follows the Cabinet approval of a comprehensive package of measures to address the damage caused by metal theft to public infrastructure and the economy by restricting and regulating trade of waste.

This also includes scrap and semi-finished metals. Implementation of the policy measures will proceed along what may broadly be described as a three-phased approach.

This comes after the publication in the Government Gazette on 05 August 2022, of Draft Policy Proposals on Measures to Restrict and Regulate Trade in Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metal Waste, Scrap and Semi-Finished Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals Products to Limit Damage to infrastructure and the Economy (the draft policy) for public comment.

According to the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic), the theft of ferrous metals imposes significant costs on society, albeit at a lower rate compared to copper.

“In the case of other metals like aluminium and other exotic metals, the problem of theft is lower but is still of grave concern to government. In addition, general metal trading and related exports provides a cover for the export of metals like copper and steel.

“Exports of ferrous waste and scrap metal will be temporarily prohibited but exceptions will be allowed. Ferrous scrap metal will be subject to the 6-month export prohibition but, unlike in the case of copper, exceptions will be made for stainless steel and ferrous waste and scrap that is produced in the ordinary course of business as a by-product of a manufacturing process,” the dtic said.

In an effort to protect its rail assets, PRASA has beefed up security by introducing military-grade fencing to protect the most valuable assets.

“Since we implemented the integrated security plan, the asset-related crimes have dropped significantly. However, it is not economically feasible to fence our entire network and this policy change on the trade of waste scrap and semi-processed metals will assist our efforts,” Emeran said.

PRASA supports the measures to restrict and regulate trade in waste, scrap and semi-finished ferrous and non-ferrous metal products.

The agency said the six months ban on the export and tightening of trade regulations would go a long way in reversing copper theft and the demand for scrap metal.

Assets stolen from PRASA have ended up at scrap metal yards where they are processed and sold.

“The cost of cable theft and vandalism experienced on the PRASA network can be quantified in terms of the direct and indirect costs associated with the theft and vandalism.

“Cable theft and vandalisation of substations and signalling equipment results in the direct cost of repairing, replacing, and protecting the equipment. It also results in delayed or cancelled trips and lost revenue,” PRASA said.

Emeran said that implementation of the policy to restrict and regulate trade in scrap metals will positively impact the economy.

It will bolster PRASA’s ability to provide safe, reliable, affordable, efficient passenger train services. The theft of metal and copper cables sold to the industry has had a debilitating impact on PRASA.

This has necessitated a programme to rebuild and recover corridors damaged as a result of this theft and vandalism.

PRASA is not alone in experiencing wholesale theft of its infrastructure. Transnet Freight Rail, Telkom, and Eskom have also seen their networks targeted by thieves, many of them highly organised, who make off with substations, railway tracks, and other metals.

In his State of the Nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted the effect of infrastructure theft.

“The damage caused by the theft of scrap metal and cable on our infrastructure like electricity, trains and other vital services is enormous. We will take decisive steps this year both through improved law enforcement and by considering further measures to address the sale or export of such scrap metal,” the President said.


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