PRASA says upgrade of rail transport will involve local industry

The CEO of Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), Lucky Montana, told the public services select committee that a preferred bidder for new passenger coaches would be selected before the end of 2012 and a contract to commence building the first of 3000 new coaches over the next ten years concluded by the middle of 2013.

He told parliamentarians that the current stock of some 4,600 Metrorail coaches “would soon be unsafe to use” ranging in age from 20 to 50 years old. The same applied to its 1,200 long-distance Shosholoza Meyl train units and the replacements were to be supplied on the basis that that 65% of content was locally manufactured.

This would mean the bidder would have to have in place the manufacturing ability to meet such a commitment, Montana said, adding that “the first train would roll out of the new manufacturing plant in 2014/15.”

Montana said that whilst finished coaches could probably be imported sooner, the plan was rather to revive the local manufacturing industry thus developing skills and new jobs. A feasibility study had been undertaken by Prasa with National Treasury and the departments of public enterprises and transport, and together they had established the need for some 7,200 coaches.

He told the select committee that  in general terms South Africa’s rail system as it stood “had come to the end of its design life”. Technology used was obsolete, he said, and the whole rail structure was inefficient because of high costs of maintenance and “there are many areas that we can’t close down because we have to provide some sort of service.”

Of the international standards criteria for passenger coaches, of the twenty two issues that should be met for passenger safety and comfort, the current fleet only met one item on the list – that of heating for passengers, he said.

Signalling systems also had to be totally renewed throughout the country, he said, current ineffective systems currently inhibiting any ability to increase turn around or run more trains.

R7bn in new signalling systems was to be spent, Montana said, and he showed parliamentarians a capital expenditure budget indicating a spend of R26bn on rolling stock and infrastructure development which included signalling over the period 2012/13 to 2014/15.

In terms of future planning, he described a Johannesburg/ Durban high speed link; a further high speed rail system for the Moloto rail corridor;  a rail link for Baragwanath to Johannesburg and commuter rail links for Cape Town and King Shaka airports.

In a subsequent development outside of committees, Ben Martins, the newly appointed minister of transport, in a replying to a parliamentary question on the subject of commuter needs commented that it was “a constitutional aspiration and a stated policy that public (rail) transport should eventually devolve to the level of government closest to its delivery.”

Minister Martins noted that PRASA, as it was currently structured, “provided for limited accountability to customers” and it was imperative to “restructure service delivery in such a way as to introduce accountability and obtain better governance over the deployment of public funds.”

Talks were underway with regional governments, provincial structures and municipalities on the running of metro rail services, minister Martins stating that at this stage it was government’s intention is to devolve “only rail operational subsidies” to metropolitan municipalities, who would act as “conduits for payment” and not act as operators.

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