City’s bid to take over trains welcomed

Athlone train station is one of the stationss on the Cape Flats railway line.

As passengers flee a foundering Metrorail, commuters on the central line have welcomed the City of Cape Town’s proposal to take over the rail service before it collapses completely.

The City plans to ask the national Department of Transport for the reins pending approval of full council at the end of the month.

The City says Metrorail’s data shows passenger numbers have plummeted by 30 percent from 2015/16 to 2016/17 and that, on average, there were 2.7 million fewer rail journeys a month in Cape Town in 2016/17 compared to 2015/16.

Only 43% of trains were on time when the international norm was 80 percent; one out of every 10 trains was cancelled daily and 26% of the complaints to the Transport Information Centre were about poor security.

By April, Metrorail was short of 20 train sets – the service was operating on 68 sets as opposed to the 88 train sets required to run an efficient service

Brett Herron, Mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said more than half of all commuters journeys in Cape Town had traditionally been by train, but Metrorail’s data confirmed that over the past two years, thousands had ditched the trains in favour of the roads: taxis, buses and private vehicles.

“We are facing a real risk that passenger rail in Cape Town could effectively collapse before the Department of Transport’s National Rail Policy (draft White Paper) of June 2017 is finalised to devolve the management of passenger rail to municipalities. This could take another two to three years. The City cannot sit back and wait for the national government to intervene. Time is of the essence,” said Mr Herron.

Metrorail’s collapse would be “catastrophic” for the city, which was already plagued by “constant peak-hour grid-lock” on its congested road network. “This comes at a great cost in terms of the time spent on travelling, household expenditure on transport, environmental degradation due to carbon emissions, and the subsequent impact on our productivity and Cape Town’s economy.”

The City would, however, need to spend hundreds of millions of rands in the short- to medium-term to halt the decline and to build up passenger rail from scratch.

“The City will need more funding at various points during the rescue operation – thus, it is proposed that the handover is structured and incremental and not on a single day. That said, doing nothing at this point in time poses the biggest risk of all,” Mr Herron said.

Patrick Mbiya has travelled by train for more than 10 years, catching it at Lansdowne. He said he was often late for work and welcomed the City’s proposal to take over the service. “The trains are late every day, and the people smoke drugs in the train. Nothing is being done about it. It will be very interesting to see the takeover. They need to put more security in the trains so that people don’t smoke in the trains.”

Munya Munyati, who also boards the train at Lansdowne station, complained about being late for work almost every day. “From 6am there are no trains or they are all delayed and no one says anything. We just wait there and it leads to overcrowding. People smoke in the trains and innocent people are forced to smell it; it is disgusting.”

Mr Munyati said he hoped the City could improve the service. “Hopefully the City will be able to make a difference and things will change,” he said.

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) did not respond to questions by the time this edition went to print.