Many of us will recall seeing family members rushing off to catch the train to work or school thanks to it being largely an affordable means of getting around.
“Passenger rail plays a pivotal role in driving economic activity by transporting millions of people to and from their workplaces daily,” says Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) Group CEO Hishaam Emeran.
This as PRASA, which is responsible for 2 228 kilometres rail tracks countrywide, has been in the process of rebuilding the passenger rail infrastructure and refurbishing vandalised stations across the country.
According to Emeran, the rebuilding and reopening of the corridors is transporting some 19 million passengers to and from places of work and economic opportunities.
In the 2020 State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa committed government to fixing commuter rail “which is vital to the economy and to the quality of life of our people.”
At the time he said government was modernising the agency’s rail network. He added that work that would be conducted on the lines included station upgrades, parkway replacements, new signalling systems and overhead electrical traction upgrades.
“The positive impact of resuming passenger rail services on the livelihoods of commuters who spend over 40% of their income on transport cannot be overstated. We have saved commuters thousands of rands in travel costs, as a train ticket costs less than a litre of petrol.
“For example, a trip from Germiston to Johannesburg now costs just R7.50, easing the financial burden on commuters. These efforts underscore our commitment to stimulating local economies and long-term prosperity,” Emeran told SAnews.
The agency is making significant progress in rebuilding the passenger rail infrastructure and refurbishing vandalised stations. The rebuilding efforts have had a positive impact on the health of the economy.
“Through our rebuilding efforts, we've injected over R3.6 billion into the economy, creating over 6,000 job opportunities, with 211 small, medium, and micro-sized Enterprises (SMMEs) appointed. Among these job opportunities, 856 were for women, and 4,061 were youth employment opportunities,” he said.
He adds that the commitment and determination of PRASA employees who worked tirelessly to restore passenger rail services, has helped the agency in the repair of the country’s passenger rail corridors.
“A multidisciplinary war room was set up led by engineers and corridor project leaders and other senior PRASA senior managers to manage the rebuilding project effectively and efficiently. To expedite the recovery of services, an Acceleration Programme was developed to make sure targets and deadlines were met consistently.”
The end of September saw the commuter rail service from Pretoria to Kempton Park resume its commercial service, bringing the number of recovered lines by the agency to 20.
At a recent Southern African Railway Association conference in Johannesburg, the Group CEO said significant strides are being made in recovering the passenger rail network.
“To date, 26 of the 40 corridors have been recovered, with over 19 million passengers using the services to date. Just on the corridor recovery we have spent R3.6 billion to date in this financial year, with more than 6 000 jobs created,” he said at the gathering.
Asked about the public’s response to the restoration of services, Emeran said that the PRASA services have brought much-needed financial relief to commuters who on average were spending 40% of their income on transport costs.
“PRASA has restored corridors across the country to the relief of 19 million commuters that are now using the trains. We are bringing a modern travel experience for commuters and the commuters and communities love the new trains. We have introduced new high-tech electric trains on some of the corridors,” he said.
The new Isitimela Sabantu trains sport automated doors, built-in safety features, CCTV cameras, and they don’t move when the doors are open for the safety of commuters. The air-conditioned cars are designed for the comfort of commuters.
Meanwhile, PRASA is set to increase its capital spending over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) with a budget of over R50 billion for rolling stock and infrastructure investments. The increased capital spending is due to the reopening of some of the key corridors.
“Now we plan on spending R50 billion from this financial year and over the next three years to support the modernisation of the passenger rail network and the implementation of our turnaround plans," he said.
Progress made in rehabilitating the lines includes that of the Leralla-Germiston line, which cost under R600 million in rebuilding and rehabilitating. The rehabilitation included the six stations the train stops at, the overhead electrical cables that power the trains and the substations that feed power to the network. The train stops at Leralla, Limindlela, Tembisa, Kempton Park, Rhodesfield and Germiston stations.
In the fight against theft and vandalism, in August the agency announced that its Protection Services Officers had been declared Peace Officers as per Section 334 of the Criminal Procedures Act, giving them law enforcement powers similar to those of police officers.
The Peace Officer status gives them the powers to make arrests, issue written notices in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, complete dockets, and powers to detain.
“They have been deployed to key corridors to safeguard the rail infrastructure and ensure the protection and safety of our commuters.”
The group CEO added that there are plans to train more PRASA Protection Officers to be Peace Officer across the country.
The agency has also developed an integrated security plan, collaborating with law enforcement agencies.
“Part of the strategy is to increase boots on the ground, in our trains, stations and platforms. Since implementing this comprehensive security plan, we have seen a 70% reduction in security-related incidents, an achievement that we commend,” he said.
While the country continues to mark Transport Month, it is also inching closer to the busy festive season and the agency has plans in place to transport commuters to their various holiday destinations.
“The festive season is our busiest period for our long-distance transport services. Plans are in place for the long-distance traveling for the holiday season – whether by bus or train. Shosholoza Meyl and our Autopax bus services – Translux and Transnet, will be moving people to their various destinations during the holiday period,” said Emeran.
No doubt PRASA is on track to deliver services. –SAnews.gov.za