Fast rail a transport priority

2010-04-15 00:00

TRANSPORT Minister S’bu Ndebele has resuscitated a proposal — first mooted when he was KZN premier — to develop a fast rail link between Durban and Johannesburg.

His spokesman, Logan Maistry, explained the proposal, which Ndebele laid out in his budget speech on Tuesday, as one of the “critical macro socioeconomic infrastructure projects for the overall economic performance of the country”.

Ndebele told Parliament that the proposal will go before Cabinet this year. The Transport Department cited the crumbling and congested state of the national road network as the reason why high-speed freight rail is so important.

Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin told Parliament: “Some 80% of our road network is now older than the 20-year design life for which it was originally built.

“Even more sobering is the fact that in making its assessment of the entire network, the South African National Roads Agency was able to rely on data for only 64% of roads in our nine metros. When it came to other municipalities [some 340 000 km], there was data for only four percent of these roads.”

Maistry said a detailed feasibility study for the rail link will be completed this year, which “will indicate the most cost-effective project implementation plan that will address the capital expenditure of the infrastructure, the rolling stock and equipment”.

The Transport Department says it is of paramount importance that South African railways develop sufficiently to reach international standards. Maistry said the department will continue to study successful railways overseas, which will “take us into the future”.

Ndebele told Parliament that a high-speed link will cut the journey time from 12 to about three hours.

After a recent visit to China, Ndebele said: “The main challenge facing South Africa is to modernise its railway system in a manner that promotes growth and development.

“We need new rail technologies to meet the demands of the 21st century. Our ability to efficiently move freight and people is vital to a modern, thriving economy.”

Getting freight trucks off the roads, particularly the N3, is vital to easing congestion and damage.

According to Saret Knoetze, spokeswoman for Transnet Pipelines, the pipelines that carry fuel and gas across the country, which are currently being renovated to carry more fuel and gas, have already ensured that “there are fewer trucks on the road travelling long distances, but there are still trucks on the road doing the shorter distances to make fuel deliveries”.

Knoetze said that “there is still a huge market for cargo”.

“We need to get cargo off the roads and on to rail,” she said.

Gary Ronald of the Automobile Association agreed, saying that the main focus should be on the transportation of cargo, not people. “I would far rather see rail lines that carry freight timeously. If Spoornet got their act together and got freight moving, then 90% of the traffic problem would be solved,” he said.

Neil Tolmie, chief executive officer of the N3 Toll Concession, was unable to comment at the time of going to print as “there is insufficient detail”, he said, although once the proposed project progresses they will be able to discuss how the possible rail link will affect the N3 highway.

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