Moloto Road: 10 years of broken promises
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Next year, coincidentally an election year, will mark exactly a decade since the government conducted a pre-feasibility study to determine the viability of constructing a rail line for commuters using the deadly Moloto Road.
The study, done by the Mpumalanga provincial government in 2004, symbolised the start of action after years of empty promises to long-distance commuters from the former KwaNdebele homeland that they would have trains.
Now more than 50 000 people commute daily on the accident prone R537 Moloto Road to their places of work and higher education institutions in Pretoria. But the rail project, known as the Moloto Rail Development Corridor, remains a pipe dream for commuters.
Putco, a private bus company, maintains a monopoly on transporting the thousands. The company receives millions of rand as subsidies from the government for its operations.
Taxis operating on the road do not receive government subsidies, so daily commuters do not see them as an option.
This week’s accident on Moloto Road in Kwaggafontein, which claimed the lives of 29 people travelling in a Putco bus, reminded the government of its old plans to construct the railway line.
Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said: “This horrific crash happens on the eve of my presentation of the draft rail policy in cabinet. The rail policy has a specific emphasis on the Moloto corridor and speaks to the transport infrastructure investments that we need to make in that area as government.”
The Sunday Independent visited the Marabastad terminal this week. This is where Putco commuters catch buses back home after a long day of work.
Besides the deep sorrow over this week’s deaths, the commuters were irked that the government has not kept its promise to provide them with trains.
“I’m not interested in saying anything about that; the government is messing with us,” said an elderly man so incensed by the topic that he didn’t even want to give his name.
“We’re losing families on Moloto road. Every time after a big accident the government talks about trains, but nothing happens. So I’m not interested in talking about it.”
Following the pre-feasibility study in 2004, the government embarked on another feasibility study between 2006 and 2007. The R30 million study found the rail option “feasible and economically viable”, according to the 2013/2014 annual performance plan of the national transport department.
In 2008 the cabinet endorsed the findings and approved the Moloto Rail Development Corridor project. The government would need to pump R8.6 billion into the project.
This would be a 140km stretch of rail meant to reduce fatalities on the Moloto Road. It would run from Pretoria to Sekhukhune in Limpopo, cutting through the former KwaNdebele region.
Parliament’s portfolio committee on transport this week said it was “of the view that the implementation of the Moloto Rail Corridor project will go a long way to solving the high number of accidents that this particular road experiences.
“The implementation will also give commuters an alternative service they can use, rather than rely on one mode of transportation despite the risks,” said Ruth Bhengu, the committee’s chairwoman.
Because the promise of a train has not yet been fulfilled, Elizabeth Dlamini, who commutes to her job as a domestic in Pretoria, said: “If I had my way, I would lobby the community that we should agree that no one votes until they deliver.
“It’s all the same, you vote but nothing comes right. Trains would be better for us, but there’s nothing that the government does.”
A KwaMhlanga resident, Dlamini spends almost R700 for a bus ticket for a month She still forks out R400 for taxis, as the bus does not reach her workplace in Danville.
But she earns no more than R2 500, she said. “Train tickets are affordable too. Trains are better in many ways.”
Dlamini said she feared more lives would be lost on Moloto Road.
“We’ve lost so many people on the Putco buses. It doesn’t help that Putco pays for funerals when people die. We won’t get our people back. But Putco can fix its buses. Putco should just agree to the construction of a railway.”
Eric Chauke, who was waiting to take a bus to Rathoke, a village in Limpopo, said the problem with Moloto Road was that it is “too narrow”.
“Accidents are bound to happen on this road. They should open it with more lanes,” he said.
Prince Kabini, 29, said he believed the rail project was being “sidelined by top officials” in the government and Putco. “It’s been long overdue.”
It does appear that lack of political will and consideration of private business interests are obstacles to the project.
Responding to a written question in Parliament in 2010, then minister of transport S’bu Ndebele said: “Cabinet approved, in principle, the Moloto Rail Corridor Development Initiative following the consideration of the feasibility study that had been conducted.
“However, in the light of the economic recession and because of fiscal constraints, it was not possible to proceed with the implementation of the project.”
This was at a time when the government had just completed the R28 billion Gautrain project.
In July this year Lucky Montana, chief executive of Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), told Parliament the agency would expand Metrorail “most importantly” to the Moloto Corridor, “although in some areas Prasa experienced resistance from those currently operating long-distance buses”.
There was now a new feasibility study of the project.
Ndebele revealed in April last year that the new one “would look at various public transport options for the corridor”.
“The feasibility study on the Moloto Corridor was still noted as an ongoing issue and the rail policy would be developed and an interim rail economic regulator established,” the transport department told Parliament in July this year. - Sunday Independent