Ramaphosa: ‘A key priority is to fix commuter rail’

It’s been one year since President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that he dreams of a South Africa that has bullet trains. In reality, this is easier said than done with a rail network that is crippled by arson, outdated infrastructure, extensive looting of the coffers of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, and vandalism. Then, a year later, in another State of the Nation Address, the president announces a cash injection of R1.4-billion each to fix two key rail lines.

At the State of the Nation Address on Thursday night, despite its disruptions and interruptions, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the state’s rail agency would receive just over R1.4-billion to “provide a safe, reliable and affordable service”.

During his speech, Ramaphosa announced: “A key priority this year is to fix commuter rail, which is vital to our economy and to the quality of life of our people… our rail network daily transports over a million commuters to and from work. We are modernising Prasa’s rail network. The Central Line in the Western Cape and the Mabopane Line in Pretoria have been closed for essential refurbishment and upgrades. We are investing R1.4 billion in each of these lines to provide a safe, reliable and affordable service.”

The president also said that work was underway on other rail lines across the country, including signal upgrades, new signalling systems and overhead electrical traction.

he Central Line in Cape Town is a nightmare for commuters travelling between the CBD and areas such as Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain. If it is not overcrowding on trains, it is vandalism, cancellations or trains simply not arriving on time. Extensive vandalism and cable theft caused rail service on the line to be suspended on 1 November 2019. Now, 105 days and counting later, the president has given a cash injection to the much-needed railway line.

Prasa administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo previously said the line could be re-opened by September 2020. The Mabopane Line in Tshwane has been shut since November 2019, according to the SABC, following extensive vandalism. Mpondo told the SABC a limited service could run by September 2020.

But giving R1.4-billion to an entity that had to explain to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts why it received a disclaimer opinion in its most recent findings by the Auditor-General — not to mention the millions intended for “refurbishing” the rail network that actually was lost to extended looting of the entity, does raise eyebrows.

There is also the fact that Mpondo said at the briefing in January 2020 that Prasa had spent only 10% of its 2019/2020 budget by November 2019.

Speaking to Daily Maverick about the cash injection, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said:

“R1.4-billion is just for the corridor only, it’s for the Central Line. The capital projects spending is above that — way above that. The Central Line and Mabopane, we’re talking about the Central Line in Cape Town that has been shut down — R1.4-billion will be added to refurbish is what the president said.”

Earlier, DA Shadow Minister for Transport Chris Hunsinger told Daily Maverick that when talking about transport, especially Prasa, the thinking should change from passengers being those who want coaches now, to clients and how to make things run smoothly for those who make use of train services in the country.

He said systems need to be put in place to incentivise the system — where those who make use of different modes of transport to get around are able to use a single ticketing system to pay for transportation. DM

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By Suné Payne• 14 February 2020

Feature image provided by Eye Witness News