6 July 2009
South Africa is to invest some R25-billion over the next three years on upgrading the country’s passenger rail services.
Tabling his budget vote in Parliament in Cape Town last week, Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele said that R14-billion of that amount would be spend on upgrading infrastructure and rolling stock, while the rest would be for funding rail operations.
Public transport agency
In March this year, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) was created as the new state-owned rail and bus operator, merging the South African Rail Commuter Corporation, Metrorail, Shosholoza Meyl, and Autopax.
According to an Engineering News report in March, property management and development company Intersite would also be consolidated into the 13 000-plus employee entity to “manage, maintain and upgrade stations, as well as to pursue projects that could extract value from the group’s substantial property assets”.
In an effort to make rail passenger travel safer, South Africa has also re-introduced the railway police on Metrorail services, and has steadily been increasing their numbers.
Rolling stock investment
Ndebele pointed out that Prasa had shown its capacity to absorb the huge capital allocation, and in some instances had exceeded the capital funds allocated to it.
“Increased spending on rail infrastructure will be of vital importance in the current economic climate and in sustaining jobs,” he said.
Prasa has, since the 2006/07 financial year, accelerated its rolling stock investment programme, resulting in over 1 500 coaches being refurbished at a cost of R5-billion.
“An additional 700 coaches will go through this programme this year at an estimated R2-billion,” said Ndebele, adding that Prasa was on course to eliminate the historical backlogs in the in the rail industry.
He said that while the amount allocated by the government remained vital to the upgrading of rail passenger transport, there was a need to recognise that the intervention would not resolve the key underlying challenges facing rail in the long term.
“We should be forward-looking and start investing in a manner that will meet future transport requirements,” Ndebele said.