Road of death lies at government’s door

I AM sad today, sad and angry. Because of another 29 people who died needlessly on the notorious R537 Moloto Road.

Needlessly?

Yes. Because there has been an alternative on the table for years, an alternative that would have prevented the deaths of countless commuters on this road of death. And make no mistake, many people have died on this road in the past 10 years alone. Thousands more have been horribly injured.

The alternative option, approved as long ago as 2006, is building a railway line.

So, umpteen times I have asked government officials - ranging from two ministers of transport, two deputy ministers, two directors general in the department to the chairperson of the portfolio committee on transport - the question: when will the Moloto corridor train get built?

Every time I’ve been told government is looking at the issue.

Once I was told the reason the train isn’t getting built is because of apartheid.

Apparently, said the person who told me this, many feel it won’t be right to build a train to move people from one area to another. It would be better to build houses in Pretoria for people to move to. Building a train would simply perpetuate apartheid’s spatial engineering. 

Well, people who want to move to Pretoria would have done so long ago. Those who would rather get houses in Pretoria will probably have to wait decades, given that government is already struggling to meet the housing demand for people in other areas across the country.

In the meantime, what do we do to get the 50 000-odd people living in the Siyabuswa region in KwaNdebele to work every morning?

Well, let’s transport them with buses. It’s only 130km between Siyabuswa and the capital city.

So mothers and fathers trying to eke out a living in Pretoria have to get up at 2am every morning to get to work in time. They often get home only after 8pm at night. Family life? What’s that? Preparing meals for your children? How?

As I mentioned, in 2006 government approved a plan to build a train on the corridor. They even allocated an initial budget. Ever since then... nothing.

DA MP Ian Ollis says cabinet would not release the initial budget due to a delay in planning and impact assessments.
“However, waiting till today has meant the continued reliance on over 600 buses to move people every morning on
South Africa’s most dangerous road.

"With the current state of poor road traffic policing and inspection of buses at depots and collection points, many vehicles are often unroadworthy, drivers are over-tired and proper licensing is not always in place.”

Ollis says the Moloto rail corridor should have been finished long ago.

Some department officials believe it would be a lot of money for a train just to move people twice a day along a corridor of 130km.

“The rest of the day the train would be unviable and unsustainable,” I’ve been told.

This is the same department that wants to build a high speed train between Johannesburg and Durban. Because that makes sense.

Another reason for the delays may be infighting between provinces, given that both Gauteng and Mpumalanga are involved. It seems neither wants to provide funding for a railway line, and both seem happy enough to sit idly by and do nothing.

The longer government takes to move on the train, the more expensive it gets. One estimate in 2007 was that the train would cost about R9bn. In 2012 the cost was estimated at about R25bn. (Bear in mind that the Gautrain transports around 50 000 people per day, and cost R27bn-odd.)

So currently government is happy to pay bus companies millions a year in subsidies to move the 50 000 people on the same corridor. At last check, the subsidy paid by government to the bus companies was R7 200 per person, per month. These are people who rarely earn more than R2 000 per month. Does that make sense?

Is the reason this is not getting momentum because some bus companies stand to lose a lot of money? I don’t know.

All I know is that tonight there are 29 devastated families. And tomorrow? Well, tomorrow at 2am thousands more will have to get up to catch their buses to Pretoria.

 - Fin24

*Follow James-Brent Styan on Twitter at @jamesstyan. Views expressed are his own.

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