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After the collapse – Prasa finally reopens rail line serving Soweto

After the collapse – Prasa finally reopens rail line serving Soweto
A Prasa train travels from Johannesburg, between Dube and Ikhwezi stations, bound for Naledi in Soweto on 28 November 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

On Monday, some Soweto residents got their first taste of a functioning rail service when the Naledi to Johannesburg line was reopened.

Metrorail said the electric-powered Isitimela Sabantu will run between more than a dozen stations between Johannesburg and Naledi, stopping in Braamfontein, Langlaagte, Croesus, Longdale, New Canada, Mzimhlophe, Phomolong, Phefeni, Dube, Ikwezi, Inhlazane, Merafe and Naledi.

Metrorail said services would be limited, with two trains running during the morning and evening peak periods. There would also be a service during off-peak periods. There will be no trains on weekends.

The Naledi to Johannesburg route forms part of the 10 corridors that Prasa earmarked for reopening in the current financial year.

Excited commuters told Daily Maverick on Monday they were relieved to finally use trains, as taxis were considerably more expensive. Taxis average at least R50 for a return trip, more than twice that of a train ride.

While many welcomed the reopening of the route, some wondered how Prasa planned to prevent theft and vandalism — the very things that crippled the railways in the first place.

‘Security deployed’

“We have deployed security in all the recovered corridors and are working with law enforcement agencies to safeguard our rail infrastructure,” Prasa spokesperson Andiswa Makanda said.

Makanda said Prasa also planned to wall off the network in areas considered to be hotspots for theft and vandalism. This programme will be rolled out in phases, beginning on the central line.

One of the biggest problems was the theft of the network’s copper cables. Makanda said that in the future, the use of copper cables would be avoided where possible.

“At substations, where we could, we have replaced copper with aluminium… in all the corridors we have recovered,” she said.

‘World of difference’

“I am very excited at the recovery of the train network and the Naledi to Johannesburg line. My return trip by train cost me R17 and a taxi would have cost me R46. It makes a world of difference,” Naledi resident Nomsa Phakathi said.

“I am very excited… but I am wondering how Prasa will prevent the theft and vandalism which occurred right under the noses of Prasa security,” said Merafe resident Sihle Mngomezulu.

So far this year, the rail agency has reopened several lines, including Mabopane-Pretoria; Saulsville-Pretoria; Pienaarspoort-Pretoria; Cape Town-Simon’s Town; Cape Town-Bellville; Cape Town-Langa; Tongaat-Durban Diesel Traction Services; Durban-Merebank and the Joburg-Naledi line.

The reopening of the lines follows the large-scale theft and vandalism of Prasa infrastructure that spiralled out of control during the Covid lockdowns.

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

Prasa said that since implementing its integrated security plan, there had been no theft or vandalism on its network. The plan, said Prasa, was integral to the running of its services.

The agency said the corridor’s recovery process had enabled the transportation of 4.1 million passengers, 30 million train trips and created 1,096 jobs.

Prasa has been battling corruption and leadership challenges for a while, with considerable instability at the top. The last CEO, Zolani Matthews, was axed after a row over his dual citizenship status. Matthews was appointed in February last year following his approval by the Prasa board.

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While most commuters are happy to have the trains running again, some are sceptical.

“I have no confidence in Prasa and I don’t see the current train services being operational beyond June next year. What will stop the organised syndicates from helping themselves to the rail network this time?” asked Mmogo Mpati from Naledi.

However, Naledi commuter Mandisa Makhetha said: “I’m so excited I cannot wait for my first ride on Wednesday.” 

Makhetha said she was relieved train services were returning because taxis were so expensive that some days she couldn’t even afford to go to work.

“Let’s just hope this time security will be tight and that we will be safe inside the new trains,” Makhetha said.

In July, transport minister Fikile Mbalula called on the Prasa board to stamp out corruption or risk being axed themselves. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Tivan Leak says:

    It breaks my heart that we have failed those who live on the outskirts of business districts due to racial spatial planning that has not been adequately addressed. The looting at Prasa and the uncompetitive taxi cartels inflate the prices they pay, reduces the quality of the service they receive and compromises their safety.

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