Fast tracking SA's trains

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

By Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters

Earlier this month, President Jacob Zuma joined thousands of other commuters on the morning rush as part of his Siyahlola monitoring visit to assess the public transport system in the country’s capital.

He began his journey at the Denneboom Railway Station in Mamelodi, east of Pretoria, where he observed first-hand what many commuters experienced on a daily basis.  

Top of mind, to passengers when they saw the President, was the unreliability of trains, which made them late for work, and concerns over safety standards.

“I have personally identified some positive improvements and serious challenges concerning our public transport,” said President Zuma. “I am more concerned with the railway transport system because I have personally experienced and witnessed the challenges faced by our people and, indeed, a lot needs to be done to improve our railway transport system.”

The President undertook that the state-owned Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) would swiftly address the issues raised. He added government was working to continually improve the country’s public transport system.

Our transport challenges in the rail sector system are a deliberate act of underinvestment during the apartheid government. Funds for capital improvements in the late 1980s were diverted to prop up the failing apartheid system, which led to a steady deterioration in passenger rail services.

Moreover, apartheid’s spatial planning forced black South Africans to outlying areas and ensured that they were unable to access economic opportunities in the cities through a fragmented and uncoordinated transport system.

This legacy has been difficult and costly to simply dismantle overnight. Government has, however, progressively worked to change the situation and this year R6 billion will be spent in 13 cities on planning, building and operating integrated public transport networks.

To improve passenger rail services, government has also embarked on one of the world’s biggest rail projects to overhaul passenger trains. These top-class trains are   an investment of R51 billion, which will be spread over the next 10 years.

Government is confident this investment will restore our passenger train services to the highest level of safety and reliability. Our investment in rail infrastructure is being prioritised because it will become the backbone of our passenger transport system.

The rail revitalisation programme is much more than just the procurement of new trains- it involves reviving the entire rail industry.

As part of the programme, 580 passenger trains will be manufactured at a new factory in Ekurhuleni at an investment of R1 billion. It will create 8 088 direct jobs. Over the next 10 years, 33 000 direct and indirect jobs will be created. Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) will train 19 527 people as engineers, artisans, technicians, train drivers and technologists.

The revitalisation of our passenger rail system will run parallel with our drive to shift the transport of freight from road to rail. Transnet is investing R205 billion in its rail infrastructure, making its freight rail division the fifth-largest in the world.  

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