sent to clients 12 October…..
National rail policy mapped out…..
A Green Paper on South Africa’s National Rail Policy has been published for comment naming the country’s challenges in rail transportation, recommending policy direction and containing broad proposals for the way forward to develop the current rail network.
Gazetted recently, the Green Paper represents work commenced in 2010 and says the document “Seeks to revitalise the local railway industry by means of strategic policy interventions”. Not only is freight rail included in the proposals but long-distance rail passenger and localised commuter services.
Road dominates at a cost
Minister Peters said in a media statement at the time that railways in South Africa had operated for almost more than a century without a proper overarching policy framework to guide development. “The railway line and its railway stations have played a pivotal role in the day-to-day lives of communities, especially those in the rural areas, but as far as freight is concerned, 89% of freight is still transported by road and the future of commuter rail conducted on an ad hoc basis”.
The emphasis of road transport is costing the country millions of rands annually in road maintenance, money that could have been well spent on developing freight rail, she said.
Cabinet last month approved the release of the Green Paper for public consultation. When all is finished, a final White Paper on National Rail Policy will be released to guide and direct development of infrastructure and develop more modern commuter systems. A National Rail Act will be the final result of the White Paper.
These interventions, according to Minister Peters, will reposition both passenger and freight rail for inherent competitiveness by “exploiting rail’s genetic technologies to increase axle load, speed, and train length.“
Lining things up
Wider-gauge technologies are on the cards. The government has said it is converting 20 000km of track to standard gauge from the narrower Cape gauge. This would bring the network in line with an African Union resolution on the subject and at the same time would boost capacity of goods carried, with longer trains and a reduction in transportation costs.
With both passenger and freight rail falling within its scope, part of the envisaged national transport policy includes involvement by the department of transport (DOT) in the local government sphere to create capabilities to move more passengers by rail with infrastructure, more rail line and technical assistance.
Creating local commuter rail
Secondly, once the localised capacity is in place, DOT says it will be able to appropriate subsidies for urban commuter rail, the management of the mini-systems then being devolved to municipalities themselves.
The Green Paper talks of investment and funding, private sector participation, inter-connection with the sub-Continent, skills planning, investment strategies and the start of a regulatory system. Part of the master plan at operations level would include a branch line strategy with the private sector involved to improve connection between cities with towns and industrial areas.
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