FILE PHOTO: Cindy Waxa

Johannesburg - There is little doubt commuter rail will be the backbone of public transport in Gauteng in the future, transport MEC Ismail Vadi said on Monday.

“Today, we have received information on the planned improvements of Metrorail in Gauteng,” Vadi said in a statement.

“These augur well for the future. Essentially, they entail three key programmes.”

These were modernising signalling and telecommunications systems, acquiring new rolling stock, and renovating train stations along the Passenger Rail Agency of SA's modernisation corridor.

“Prasa's aim is to enable Metrorail to become the number one public transport operator of choice in high-volume corridors in this province,” he said.

“We share in that dream.”

The plans were consistent with the 25-year integrated transport master plan for Gauteng and would contribute to further development of an integrated transport system in the province.

Concrete steps were being taken to overcome the historic neglect of commuter rail in Gauteng, with that neglect gradually coming to an end.

“It is now accepted by key role players that both the current administration and the future government are committed to adequate funding for the modernisation and recapitalisation of the commuter rail system, particularly in Gauteng,” Vadi said.

“Prasa has announced Siemens South Africa as its preferred bidder for the implementation of the new signalling system on its commuter rail network.”

Phase one of the project started in January 2011 at a cost of over R1 billion, which was planned to be completed in 2016.

This would replace the outdated copper cable signalling system that was prone to theft and disruption of rail services.

A key aspect of the project was the construction, at a cost of R175 million, of a centralised control centre for Gauteng. Construction would begin in May and was scheduled to be fully operational in March next year.

“Also, the modern signalling system will lay the foundation for the introduction of new, modern rolling stock in our environment,” he said.

“Prasa is in the process of procuring 3000 new and modern coaches to replace the old and outdated trains that our people have had to endure for several decades in this province.”

It was hoped the first new trains would be on the tracks in 2015.

Part of Prasa's strategy was focused on priority rail commuting corridors, with the key corridor in Gauteng being the Mabopane-Pretoria-Germiston-Johannesburg-Soweto corridor.

This included the Tembisa loop and the circular access network around the Johannesburg CBD.

“These upgraded and modernised corridors will be capable of moving in excess of 50 000 passengers per direction in the peak 1/8hours 3/8 and reach up to 120km/h on open track sections,” he said.

The modernisation programme for the three priority corridors included refurbishing 73 stations in Gauteng, with increased security, and reaction units, and upgrading track geometry so higher running speeds of up to 120km/h could be achieved.

Limindlela, Krugersdorp, Germiston, Vereeniging, Kopanong, Belle Ombre, Pretoria, Leralla, Olifantsfontein and Oakmoor stations had been earmarked for improvement in the short-term.

Vadi said given the key transport role the passenger rail system played and was expected to play in future, respect for it needed to be supported by all Gauteng residents.

“The damage to rail property and the burning of coaches must come to an end. Let us stand and work together towards an effective, efficient and sustainable passenger rail system that works for all,” he said.