Johannesburg - The Ekurhuleni municipality will replace several kilometres of stolen Nigel railway track that could cost up to R25 million to rebuild.
As five men were expected to apply for bail in connection with the theft on Thursday, the financial effect could also threaten hundreds of jobs and force a repair depot – which repairs Metrorail carriages – to close its doors.
A meeting was held on Monday between the municipality, rail authorities, police and the repair depot to discuss how to fix the problem, after it emerged last week that up to 10km of railway line had been stolen by what appeared to be a highly professional gang of thieves.
Thumbu Mahlangu, the Ekurhuleni MMC for roads and transport, said Monday’s meeting was successful but it was too early to assess when construction would begin. “Government is taking full responsibility (for the replacement),” he said.
He said they would work closely with Transnet and the carriage repair company the track serviced, the Commuter Transport and Locomotive Engineering (CTLE) depot, formerly Union Carriage and Wagon.
CTLE estimated the size of the theft to be bigger than the 5km that was initially thought to have been stolen.
“It is probably now 7km (or) 8km. Even up to 10km,” said Thembaletu Fikizolo, CTLE’s human resources executive.
Ten kilometres of rail equals 960 tons of steel and an estimated R2.6 million on the scrap market.
The director of a Gauteng-based railway construction company calculated it could cost up to R25m to replace 10km of track.
About 34 Metrorail carriages were stuck inside the depot because of the theft and Fikizolo said the financial burden of paying wages with no income coming in was taking its toll.
“Our business is going to go belly up if it doesn’t get resolved,” Fikizolo said.
He said they were concerned this would have a knock-on effect on the families of their 700 staff, their suppliers and Metrorail passengers.
Lillian Mofokeng, spokeswomen for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) which manages Metrorail, said their operations had not been affected by the theft.
Last week, Mahlangu denied there was confusion over who was responsible for guarding and maintaining the track after rail authorities and the depot could not agree on the ownership of it.
Fikizolo said they met officials from Mahlangu’s office, Transnet and Prasa last Monday and Tuesday, where they reached a “consensus” that Transnet would take responsibility for guarding and fixing of the railway line.
But Transnet’s freight rail spokesman, Mike Asefovitz, said this section of the track was out of their jurisdiction because it was privately owned. But Mofokeng said the line belonged to Ekurhuleni municipality.