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Transport Minister delivers first budget vote speech – and repeats well-worn promises to repair SA’s rail network

Transport Minister delivers first budget vote speech – and repeats well-worn promises to repair SA’s rail network
Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier)

The work to rebuild SA’s commuter rail system ‘continues in earnest’, Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga said in her maiden budget vote speech on Wednesday, with the ministry once again promising Parliament a priority would be to fix the country’s rail service for residents who depend on cheap public transport.

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) will receive R20.5-billion in transfers from the Department of Transport that will go towards signalling, rolling stock and corridor recovery programmes, Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga told Parliament on Wednesday. 

Delivering her maiden budget vote speech, Chikunga said the department had a budget of R79.5-billion for the 2023/2024 financial year, with transfers and subsidies to entities within the department accounting for about 98% of it.

Prasa, the struggling state rail agency, will receive more than a quarter – R20.5-billion – of the budget. “These funds will mainly focus towards implementing Prasa’s strategic corridor recovery programme, signalling and continuing with its rolling stock renewal drive,” she said.

“Our work to rebuild commuter rail continues in earnest. In the last financial year, we committed to recover 10 priority corridors … I am pleased that we not only achieved the target, but we exceeded it by recovering 13 corridors … This financial year we plan to recover 16 priority corridors total, eight in Gauteng, four in KwaZulu-Natal and four in the Western Cape,” she said, but did not name the specific corridors.

transport minister budget

Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga on an early-morning train ride from Nyanga to Cape Town station in April 2023 to assess work done to recover rail infrastructure and stations on the Central Line. (Photo Brenton Geach)

This isn’t the first time money has been promised to Prasa. In his 2022/2023 budget vote almost exactly a year ago on 18 May 2022, former Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said capital transfers to Prasa would be increased to R13.5-billion over the medium term. The funds were allocated towards “refurbishment of coaches, rolling stock fleet renewal programme, signalling and other capital projects, which includes security of the rail infrastructure”.

In his response to Chikunga’s speech, Chris Hunsinger, a DA MP on the transport oversight committee, said while he acknowledged “the progress made and efforts demonstrated to get Metrorail trains running again in the four main urban metro regions”, he wanted the same to be seen at administration level in Prasa.

ACDP MP Wayne Thring said his party’s view was that the department had “failed to value, protect and maintain the key transport modes entrusted to it … Across the country, train services are suspended on several major lines that take people to and from work, due to poor management capacity, corruption, inadequate security, which in turn leads to theft, vandalism and the neglect of infrastructure”.

Prasa has recovered several lines in Cape Town – including the southern line (to Simon’s Town), sections of the northern line (to Bellville) and the central line between Langa and Cape Town station. On 4 April, a train ran from Nyanga to Cape Town station for the first time since November 2019. Margaret Gelderbloem, a commuter who took the train from Nyanga, told Daily Maverick she had been paying R18 for a single taxi trip to Salt River, but now paid R8 for a single train ride.

“Now I can take that money to buy bread,” she said. DM


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