Concern over sharp drop in train usage in the Western Cape
Cape Town - Transport and Public Works chairperson in the provincial legislature Daylin Mitchell has noted with concern the 80% decrease in train usage over the past eight years.
Mitchell said that equated to 550 000 people having sought alternative means of transport, and so the R1.4 billion set aside to restore the Central Line, as promised by President Cyril Ramaphosa, has not materialised in Cape Town, despite the pledge for the line to be up and running by September last year.
Mitchell said shortly after the consolidation of the railways under the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), there had been a constant downward trend which has been exacerbated by endless looting and mismanagement.
He said multiple changes in the executive structures and corruption scandals had immobilised the chances of correcting the situation.
“Apart from prevalent institutional problems, crime has significantly hampered the railway’s ability to function as intended. Since 2015, arson attacks have plagued the rail stock based in Cape Town has reduced Prasa’s capacity to carry passengers, particularly at peak-time hours,” he said.
Mitchell said in a four-year period 140 train carriages had been torched which had resulted in only 33 train sets working in the Western Cape.
Mitchell called on Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula to put “his words" into action.
Prasa spokesperson Bane Ndlovu said they had experienced a downward spiral in performance which had also affected the Western Cape as a region.
He said their response could be demonstrated by a reduction of the train trips, high failure rates, a reduction of the patronage, a reduction of the fare revenue and the high rate of rail incidents.
“Some of the key reasons (for) the decrease of passenger numbers over the past years have included the lack of leadership stability, which led to the cancellation of key projects for investigations,” said Ndlovu.
He also cited the negative impact on the maintenance regime (infrastructure and rolling stock), which caused poor availability and reliability, train delays and cancellations, as well as high number of cases of sabotage and arson.
United National Transport Union (Untu) spokesperson Sonja Carstens appealed to Ramaphosa to listen to the union's repeated pleas for the SA National Defence Force to be deployed to safeguard what is left of the passenger rail infrastructure.
Carstens said Prasa had done all it could, but it would never be able to win the war on its own unless all stakeholders in the government, including the SANDF and the police, played their part.