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Cabinet approves white paper aimed at putting SA rail 'back on track’, allowing private sector investment

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula addressing the media after a sight inspection of Cape Town Station following the burning of 18 train carriages. Minister Mbalula was joined by officials from the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) as well as Metro Rail Western Cape management. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula addressing the media after a sight inspection of Cape Town Station following the burning of 18 train carriages. Minister Mbalula was joined by officials from the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) as well as Metro Rail Western Cape management. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 9, 2022

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Johannesburg – Cabinet has approved a white paper aimed at developing South Africa’s critical rail infrastructure, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said on Monday.

He said the Cabinet had approved the policy in March.

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Mbalula said the white paper would be gazetted on Monday.

The approval of the white paper comes as Transnet made an R8bn loss in the 2020/21 financial year.

The new policy details the department’s plans to break away from past strategies by introducing new plans aimed at auctioning the development of the South African railway network.

It also creates space for private sector investment and effective economic regulation that gives equal access to both primary and secondary networks.

Mbalula said the publication of the white paper on Monday was a momentous day.

“Today South Africa enters a new era and a renaissance of its railways with the publication in the Government Gazette of the White Paper on National Rail Policy.

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“We have come a long way since that first railway from Cape Town to Wellington was introduced in 1859. That was 163 years ago,” he said.

“The release of the White Paper on National Rail Policy represents a new epoch and a decisive break with the past, which saw the railways being used as an instrument to segregate society and give credence to a system of racial oppression,” he added.

Despite the industry being well established, it has not had a well-co-ordinated National Rail Policy and as a result the efficiency of local railways has been impacted by challenges over the years.

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Mbalula added: “The National Rail Policy intends to place rail on a sound footing to play a meaningful role as a backbone of a seamlessly integrated transport value chain able to make a meaningful contribution to the economy.

“The key thrusts of the White Paper on National Rail Policy are enabling investment in our railways, with specific attention to the exploitation of rail’s genetic technologies to achieve renaissance in the following market spaces: heavy haul, heavy intermodal, which includes double-stacked containers, contemporary urban and regional rapid transit, as well as higher-speed of 160 to 200km/h and high speed up to 300km/h,” he added.

In terms of passenger rail networks, Mbalula said the new policy would allow the private sector to run services through concessions where the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) had capacity challenges.

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“This will result in introducing an alternative provision of commuter rail in the Republic, thereby providing much-needed mobility, addressing funding constraints and enhancing competitiveness of our commuter rail system.

“The White Paper presents a multi-decade vision of how South Africa’s railway sector should evolve over time, which will provide policy certainty and enable investment and private sector participation in the sector.

“South Africa’s Constitution categorises public transport as a functional area of concurrent national and provincial legislative competence, while municipal public transport is an exclusive local government competence.

“Commuter rail is an integral part of our public transport system. This therefore requires of us to implement an effective model that will enable cities and provinces to deliver a seamlessly integrated public transport system, with commuter rail as its backbone,” said Mbalula.

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