Plans to improve rail system

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Johannesburg - The Department of Transport says it is working on a massive rail investment programme to improve the country's aging rail network.

The department's Director General George Mahlalela said the investment, which involves billions of rands, will include beefing up operations in the passenger rail sector. Three high speed rail projects have been identified in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and Musina in Limpopo.

Mahlalela said most of the country's commuter rail system has reached the end of its life span. "We believe that an ambitious programme of introducing new rail stock and technology in our system is an absolute necessity and will protect out historical investment in the sector," he said.

The plan comes a week after South Africa and China entered into a rail agreement when Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele and his Chinese counterpart Liu Zhijun signed a memorandum of understanding on the sector. Officials say the deal seeks to promote investments and trade cooperation between the two countries.

Mahlalela said the massive increase in people's movement and road traffic was posing serious challenges for the country's economy.

"We are seeing a massive increase in long distance travel in South Africa...this puts a major strain on our roads and air traffic, these challenges can only be addressed through rapid rail system.

"Our view is that the rail sector should be one of the major investment areas for the transport sector and the economy of South Africa," he said.

Over R40 billion has been invested in the past five years in passenger rail infrastructure across the country. Mahlalela said these included the R25 billion invested on the Gautrain and almost R13 billion on the rehabilitation of passenger coaches and signaling systems.

The department says the investment programme, which is expected to run for the next 20 years will create "certainty" and allow manufacturers to retool their businesses leading to sustainable local industrial activities.

"It is generally agreed that new rail technology generates social benefits, which stem from savings, increase in reliability, comfort and safety as well as from the reduction of congestion and accident in alternative modes, it is the most environmentally-friendly mode of transport," Mahlalela added.