7 February 2008
The Eastern Cape’s R117-million Kei Rail project has been awarded its operating licence, opening the way for passenger services between East London and Mthatha.
Launched in August 2003, the project linking the former Ciskei and Transkei is part of a wider plan to stimulate socio-economic development in the Border Kei region.
“This is a great day for the people of the Eastern Cape, who will now have a safe and reliable transport option in an area with limited options,” provincial transport minister Thobile Mhlahlo said in Bhisho on Tuesday.
The revival of the Kei Rail line, which has lain dormant for many years, has been a focus of the provincial government for some time now, Mhlahlo said. The project is expected to lay the foundation for future economic expansion in the impoverished eastern half of the province.
The commencement date of the service is still to be announced, but the department said the service is expected to be operational by the end of February.
A one-way trip from East London to Mthatha will cost R30 and tickets will be available for sale at the East London, Amabele, Komga, Butterworth and the Mthatha stations two hours before the train departs.
Sheltam Grindrod will supply the locomotives for the service, Rail Focus will be responsible for train traffic movements on Kei Rail, and the South African Rail Commuter Corporation/Metrorail will be the station operator for all the stations along the Kei Rail line.
For its part, the provincial transport department is leasing the coaches from Shosholoza Meyl and infrastructure from Transnet Freight Rail. The department is also responsible for the safe operation of the line and maintenance of the entire rail network, as per the Rail Safety Regulator requirements for network operators.
Although the service was initially planned as an overnight service, Mhahlo said it would commence as a daytime service for safety reasons.
“The Kei Rail line has not had an operational service for many years and it is therefore important to ensure that, at least initially, the train is as visible as possible along the line,” he said.
In this light, a safety awareness campaign was conducted by the Eastern Cape Department of Roads and Transport to heighten awareness of the dangers of an operational railway line.
This campaign included a poster campaign, radio and print advertising campaign, flyers and visits to communities along the line.
A colouring-in competition was held for school children and various industrial theatre visits were arranged to schools in Butterworth, Komga, Dutywa and Viedgesville who are exposed to the railway line.
According to the department more than 1 400 unskilled and semi-skilled people have been employed through the project. Small businesses also benefited through contracts for fencing and painting bridges.