The new Alstom X’Trapolis Mega six-car commuter electric multiple unit (EMU) trains at Paarden Island Prasa Depot. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA Pics
The new Alstom X’Trapolis Mega six-car commuter electric multiple unit (EMU) trains at Paarden Island Prasa Depot. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA Pics

No end in sight for Metrorail passengers as central line service only to be restored at end of 2021

By Bulelwa Payi Time of article published Oct 25, 2020

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Cape Town - Metrorail’s Central Line service in the Western Cape is now expected to be restored at the end of 2021, the commuter rail operator has said.

This comes amid calls for the service to be declared a “crisis”.

This week, Metrorail unveiled two new train sets, dubbed the “People’s Trains” which would be rolled out on the Southern and Cape Flats lines.

The move also came after Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula officially launched the Rail Traffic Control Centre in the province on October 16 as the country marked the Transport Month.

The centre was expected to improve efficiencies in the management of rail transport in the province.

Mbalula also told the media that work was under way to get the province’s busiest line, the central line, back on track.

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) was injecting over R1-billion to repair the line, he added.

The central line has been closed for more than a year – first due to vandalism and now as a result of lockdown regulations – which did not prevent the ongoing cable thefts.

Acting Metrorail regional manager, Raymond Maseko said pre-lockdown, and currently, there were only 26 train sets to run the service.

“Under normal circumstances, we require 33 train sets to run the Central Line. Overall, we would need anything around 90 train sets minimally, with time-tables. This also depends on the condition of our infrastructure, available train sets and personnel, taking into account that not all employees are yet permitted back at work,” Maseko said.

He noted that “significant portions” of the electrical infrastructure including overhead lines, mass poles, sub-stations, tracks and some stations were either vandalised “beyond repair” or completely removed by vandals.

In addition, illegal electrical connections, ingress onto the rail reserve, disposal of sewage onto tracks by informal settlements along portions of the route, sporadic gang turf wars and frequent service delivery protests made it impossible to restore services without major intervention, Maseko said. He said the impact due to the loss of 45% of the region’s operations was approximately R170-million in the last financial year.

Maseko said protection service personnel were deployed at operating stations to protect the assets and rail infrastructure.

“We use three layers of security: that is physical guards, CCTV cameras and drones, as well as law enforcement agencies,” he added.

Experts have warned the woes besetting the passenger rail service would require more than money.

Former Cape Town mayor and chief executive of the Western Cape

Economic Development Partnership Andrew Boraine said Metrorail services had been declining for many years and this had a “devastating” effect, especially on poor and vulnerable communities, on jobs and livelihoods, and on the economic performance of the Cape Town city region as a whole.

“The crisis of the Metrorail service is first and foremost, a governance problem, and not just a technical, financial, safety or planning problem. There is very little confidence that national government will be able to resolve the problems on its own – we have seen that movie for nearly 15 years,” Boraine said.

He said the service needed to be declared a crisis.

Boraine said all spheres of government – national, provincial, City and adjacent municipal governments needed to recognise that no single government institution on its own could solve the complex rail service problem.

“They need to work together regardless of institutional and territorial mandates and legal and political differences,” he added.

He said it would take approximately a minimum of five years of consistent effort to get the system back to minimum standards required of a decent and sustainable public transport system.

The President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Janine Myburgh, said the key issue was opening the Central Line.

“A private- public partnership would be a better option than leaving it up to National Government. The service needs to be run by people living in Cape Town. In other words, it needs hand-on management. Above all, the system requires efficient public policing that will make travelling safe, and stop the rampant theft of infrastructure,” she noted.

Weekend Argus

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