Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula says work to restore some train stations in the Western Cape has cost taxpayers about R60 million so far. He visited some of the train stations on the Northern Line to assess the renovations.
Mbalula says the stations which have been vandalised during the COVID-19 lockdown are expected to be operational again in the first week of March.
The mammoth task of fixing the rail system in the Western Cape will cost the government billions of rand. Rail infrastructure has been destroyed in what Mbalula calls wholesale theft and vandalism.
He says buildings and signal infrastructure has been left in ruin as a result of corrupt and incompetent managers.
He says many are still unable to use the central railway line in Cape Town as those who illegally moved onto Prasa railway lines, are staying put.
“The mismanagement here at Prasa has brought this mess wherein people were allowed to encroach and without any security, and here we are, we are stuck with people who have built shanties on top of the tracks. I have 20 000 people who are unable to move through that central line and these are poorest, it’s a mess, that’s why I have sleepless nights to ensure that this thing is rectified.”
Minister Mbalula addresses the media and Prasa representatives on the rehabilitation of rail infrastructure in the Western Cape:
But he says this will come to an end soon as they are in negotiations for pockets of land to move people. Prasa Board Chairperson Leonard Ramatlakane says restoration of the infrastructure of the 46 rail corridors in the country, runs into billions.
Twenty corridor lines have been restored and the aim is to restore 20 nationally this year. Ramatlakane says it is taking longer because of budget constraints.
“We’ve broken it down to small portions, we realised we will not be able to do it in a year because we don’t have the budget. So we will have to space it out in a year to year so that we can restore with the resources we have. It’s going to get into billions and those billions we don’t have but we have to spend them to bring the network into operation.”
He says fencing the Western Cape rail line for instance has been calculated at an unaffordable R4 billion. But there are pockets of success as witnessed at six Cape Town stations of the Northern line.
The revamping is between 70 and 95 % complete. Regional Manager at Prasa Kaparo Molefi says they will be in operation from the first of March, two years after they were shut down as a result of lockdown level five.
“The network was shut down because of COVID and during that time we experienced some vandalism of these stations as well as in the rail networks, some signal cables will have been vandalised. We had to be able to do that work first before we can run trains; the work will be finished at the end of January to start running in March.”
They have received 12 new blue trains to add to the stock of 35 trains in the province. Train trips have been reduced to 126 daily trips, from 422 before the COVID-19 period. Authorities say they now have a task to draw commuters back to the railway network.