Railway seen as vital to KZN future

2012-02-22 00:00

RAIL was the past; now it could be the future.

 

Premier Zweli Mkhize wants it to play a significant role in the economic development of KwaZulu-Natal and be the backbone of public transport.

In his state of the province address yesterday, he announced a massive, multi-billion rand programme to improve rail transport — both freight and passenger — across the province.

The premier said the Transport MEC, Willies Mchunu, would soon enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) to co-operate on the improvement, development and investment in the passenger rail system for KZN.

Prasa is expected to invest over R5 billion in the next five years on the programme.

As early as March this year, the agency is to acquire 7 224 new coaches to modernise the Metrorail passenger system at an estimated cost of R123 billion.

Within the next three years, Prasa will be preparing the Umlazi-kwaMashu rail corridor for a quantum improvement in service performance and increased capacity.

This will coincide with the acquisition and delivery of new passenger trains, which are expected to cost over R1,2 billion.

“The Bridge City rail link [in Inanda] will be completed by the middle of 2013 with the rail link and taxi / internodal facility catering for 18 000 passengers in the peak hour and up to 90 000 passengers per day,” Mkhize said.

“The project includes extensive involvement of local contractors with … over 800 construction jobs created over the life of the project.”

Also in April, work is expected to begin on the R1,5 billion programme to modernise the signalling for rail networks in KZN.

To increase the availability of trains in the province, Prasa has launched additional facilities for their upgrade and maintenance.

About 400 permanent jobs are expected to be created through the creation of two entities: an additional general overhaul contactor, Commuter Transport Engineering, in Pietermaritzburg, and Transnet Rail Engineering, which will be required to modernise train coaches.

Over 50 railway stations across the province will also undergo development and upgrade at a cost of about R140 million, which will create more jobs over the next 18 months.

For future rail developments, the provincial government and the Dube Tradeport will conduct a feasibility study this year to establish a rail link to King Shaka Airport. There are also plans to strengthen long-distance train services between northern KZN and both Durban and Johannesburg. Mkhize said that despite his ambitions, he recognised “the huge challenges currently facing commuter rail services in KZN and throughout the country”.

 

• skhumbuzo.miya

@witness.co.za

 

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