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As Ramaphosa talks bullet trains, Mbalula set to focus...

South Africa

SONA 2019

As Ramaphosa talks bullet trains, Mbalula set to focus on putting Metrorail back on track

The City of Cape Town's Fire and Rescue Service attends to a train set alight at Steenberg Railway Station. There have been 176 confirmed arson attacks on the Cape Town rail network between 2015 and 2019. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

President Cyril Ramaphosa made several references to rail transport during his State of the Nation Address on Thursday. This comes ahead of an expected announcement by new Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula on Friday during a planned morning train trip on Cape Town’s Central Line, the very heart of vandalism, crime and arson attacks in Cape Town.

South Africa’s embattled rail service came under the spotlight during President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address on Thursday night in Parliament.

We must improve the affordability, safety and integration of commuter transport for low-income households.

We also want a South Africa where we stretch our capacities to the fullest as we advance along the superhighway of progress. We want a South Africa that has prioritised its rail networks and is producing high-speed trains connecting our megacities and the remotest areas of our country,” said Ramaphosa, while a DA MP shouted: “Can’t we get a normal train?”

Unperturbed, Ramaphosa continued: “We should imagine a country where bullet trains pass through Johannesburg as they travel from here to Musina, and they stop in Buffalo City on their way from Ethekwini back here.”

Ramaphosa’s remarks came fewer than 24 hours before new Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula was expected to take a train trip on Cape Town’s Central Line.

Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) — and Metrorail, one of its biggest divisions — has faced a multitude of problems including aged and broken infrastructure, arson and vandalism. This is particularly prevalent on the Cape Town rail network where there have been 176 confirmed arson attacks between 2015 and 2019.

Langa is on Cape Town’s Central Line, which in the past has been described by commuters as atrocious”. The Central Line had been one of the main lines affected by vandalism, arson attacks and crimes committed against commuters and Prasa property. In October 2018, Metrorail regional manager for Western Cape Richard Walker said the line was operating only at 25% capacity and described the line as having been “brought to its knees.”

Ramaphosa’s speech did not provide any details about how the rail service would be improved, but Mbalula is expected to make an announcement on Friday morning.

Speaking to SABC after the address, Mbalula said the plan would focus on getting the basics right by ensuring that trains were available and ran on time. He also hinted at the establishment of a “war room” to deal with issues plaguing the service. DM

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