During the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (Prasa) briefing to the Standing Committee on Transport and Public Works today, it was disclosed that since 2019 there has been a 66% decrease in weekday train services throughout the province. This translates to 293 fewer trains operating every single day.

For this reason, I will table a motion that the current status of train operations and devolution of rail to capable sub-national governments be debated at the Western Cape Provincial Parliament.

The reduction in the usage of trains is not a novel circumstance in the province. As it currently stands, Prasa experienced at least 92 incidents of theft in the first six months of 2020, with more than 120 recorded in the month of July. In addition to there only being 29 functional train sets in the Western Cape – in comparison to more than 80 in 2014 – the state-owned enterprise has witnessed a drastic fall in revenue as a result and has found itself in a dangerous financial predicament.

Out of present issues needing to be addressed, the most pressing is that of Cape Town’s Central Line. Since 2019, this essential route is still not fully operational as a result of the establishment of illegal settlements along the railway infrastructure. Collectively, the stations of Langa, Philippi and Nonkqubela are now home to 7,844 dwellings and it would require a minimum of 1,350 to be relocated in order for trains to run. A total of 55.9 hectares is required for a boundary wall to be built along these areas such that the corridor can run smoothly.

Whilst we welcome Prasa’s announcement that R790 million will be spent over the next three years to repair and upgrade stations, it will still cost the country’s fiscus at least R2.8 billion for the Central Line Recovery Programme to be completed.

Without a functional railway system, residents have to rely on alternative means of transport which can be expensive and environmentally unfriendly. With more cars on the road, traffic increases and extra pressure is placed on available public transport. With winter and Covid-19 upon us, we need to take all steps to support social distancing and commuter safety.

For there to be any significant improvements in the general condition of rail infrastructure and transport, the DA in the Western Cape will continue to call for the devolution of management to capable, financially sound sub-national governments. We can no longer afford to be mere spectators to the persistent decline of this public transport cluster.

 Picture: Wikimedia Commons

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