Going loco

I don’t believe the government has spent R600-million on thirteen new locomotives that are too high. If anything, the journalist who wrote this story was too high. Before placing the order, somebody must have said to somebody else, “Get somebody to send somebody out there with a tape measure and a step ladder. Let’s see if the Afro 4000 fits.”

The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) says the accusations of incompetence are racist. I’m not convinced. If anything, they are trainist. It’s the Afrikaans press that broke this so-called story, which means the journalists concerned are quite likely white, male and of a certain age. The last train they probably caught was in 1976 from Valhalla to 7 South African Infantry Battalion in Phalaborwa. No wonder they hate anyone who has anything to do with trains. I certainly do and I was rendered to the marginally more civilised 2 Signals Regiment.

So the counter-revolutionary, anti-majoritarian, proto-fascist media suggests that because nobody was sent around with a tape measure and stepladder, passengers risked electrocution every time one of the new Afros brushed against a high voltage overhead line. Where I come from, this would be a bonus. Rail travel is crushingly dull at the best of times and I couldn’t think of a better way to liven up the journey.

I’d pay extra just to know that at any moment 50 million volts could come coursing through my carriage or that, as we head for a bridge, the entire roof could be sliced open. That’s what I call living. As a gesture of goodwill, Prasa could offer each passenger a free pair of rubber soled shoes and a crash helmet.

Journalists need to remember that running a railway is not an exact science. It’s a process of trial and error. That’s why it doesn’t matter if you got your engineering degree from the Kolkatta Institute of Alternative Medicine. Being president is similarly a process of trial and error, although some presidents will never go on trial no matter how many errors they make.

The point is, it doesn’t really matter if the new locomotives are the wrong height. It’s not a train smash. Well, I suppose it might be. But these are minor details. Like, if our new Russian nuclear power stations are too small to accommodate the Chinese plutonium rods, we’ll just put in a sunroof and they can stick out the top. It’s not only the boers who can make a plan.

Apparently Prasa did conduct some tests and found that power lines were high enough not to drag along the roof of the train killing everyone who wasn’t wearing their rubber shoes. However, the neoliberal drug-pushing media diverted from their regime change agenda long enough to point out that “there are many places in the country where, because of poor maintenance, overhead wires are much lower than they should be”. Much, I expect, like morale and IQs.

One thing worries me, inasmuch as anything can worry me. Prasa chief executive Mosenngwa Mofi admitted, “Indeed, there have been professional and robust and technical exchanges between Prasa and Transnet in relation to the testing of the Afro 4000 in the 3 kilovolt lines.” I don’t know what this means. Put more than one number in a sentence and I’m finished. But I do know that when it comes to negotiations between anyone involved in public transport, “robust exchanges” generally involve panga fights before breakfast.