South Africa

PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Western Cape gets new train nerve centre in quest to get operations on a smooth track 

A metrorail train pulls into Philippi station, Cape Town, 25 June 2019. (Photo: Sune Payne)

A new centre to centralise all train operations in the Western Cape was launched on Friday. This is one of Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula’s plans to transform the beleaguered rail system into an efficient network ‘for the benefit of commuters and the economy of Cape Town’.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula on Friday, 16 October, launched a new regional control centre for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) in Bellville, Cape Town, where all rail operations – including rail incidents, management of Prasa infrastructure and better communications in the Western Cape, will be handled.

Since train operations resumed in July following the Covid-19 lockdown, there are only three lines in operation in Cape Town: the Cape Flats Line (to Retreat), Southern Line (to Retreat via Wynberg) and the Northern Line (to Kraaifontein).

Prasa’s new Western Cape nerve centre was launched on Friday, 16 October. This centre will operate from Bellville in Cape Town, All Prasa operations in the province will be monitored and controlled from this centre. Photo: Suné Payne, 16 October 2020

Mbalula launched the centre on the back of massive vandalism and infrastructure across the country, particularly across the rail network in Gauteng and Cape Town.

“The centre brings with it improved efficiencies in the management of rail transport for the benefit of commuters, the community and the economy of the City of Cape Town and the province as a whole,” said Mbalula and added, “through this centre we are going to see a proper coordination and integration of all technical and operational activities during normal operations, emergencies and abnormal operating conditions of Prasa”.

Other key operations that will be handled include protection services and the rolling stock departments. Mbalula would then describe the new building as the “nerve centre” of operations in the Western Cape.

Although the official launch of the centre was on Friday, it has been operating for six weeks already.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula addresses the media following the launch of Prasa’s new central operations centre in Bellville, Cape Town on Friday, 16 October 2020. Photo: Suné Payne

Read in Daily Maverick: Stripped bare: Looting till there is nothing left of Gauteng’s rail network

“Cape Town is [experiencing] similar [attacks], but not to the extent that Gauteng is currently,” said  Ernest Hendricks, Metrorail Head of Security in the Western Cape.

Hendricks told Daily Maverick that the only full line not operational due to extended vandalism is the Central Line, operating between Cape Town and the suburbs of Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha.

Hendricks said one of the problems on the Central Line is its proximity to poor communities where criminals and poor people exchange cables for cash in industrial areas such as Epping, where many scrap dealers operate from.

“Just last week, for the whole of the week, we had 25 arrests that we made – jointly operating with Railway South African Police Service as well as Transnet,” said Hendricks.

Hendricks said he welcomed the 3,100 new employees to Prasa, which Mbalula announced in September. Hendricks told Daily Maverick that 53 of these new employees are undergoing training to work in the Cape rail network.

“I am happy because they are a force multiplier to me,” said Hendricks.

Ultimately, 750 of these new employees, who will focus solely on securing the rail network and ensuring passenger safety, will be deployed to stations across Cape Town.

“There’s a lot of investment going into security… I think the company realised security is critical to get everything up and running,” said Hendricks.

Raymond Maseko, the acting regional head for the Western Cape told Daily Maverick that there are 700 trains operating from that centre, but if all lines are operational, this number will increase to 1,000 trains operating from the centre.

He told Daily Maverick, over the next few weeks, more lines will be opened including from Cape Town to Malmesbury and Wellington. In November, trains will run to Stellenbosch and Strand.

Friday’s launch forms part of October Transport Month activities, held across the country, which included Thursday’s briefing with Western Cape MEC for Transport and Public Works, Bonginkosi Madikizela, where they discussed the upcoming national taxi lekgotla, due to be held on 29 October.  DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andrew McWalter says:

    Unfortunately the moment the name “Fikile Mbalula” is mentioned, his loud mouth and vacuous legacy completely overshadow any hope for success let alone meaningful improvement, no matter how grand the plan may be. I’d prefer to hear a professional’s view on issues, not the incoherent ramblings of a simple-minded politician elected beyond his ability to reason.

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