New train manufacturing plant hailed, but Prasa's woes could delay rollout - reports

2018-10-26 11:14
People's Train (flickr)

People's Train (flickr)

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 *Prasa has disputed The Citizen’s report. Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani told News24 that it was not true that the trains did not fit the tracks; she said there was nothing unusual about upgrading some of the infrastructure, adding that some of the platforms were a century old and were not intended to accommodate passenger trains. The rail system would also need to match the new technology of the trains, and many platforms were not intended to accommodate disabled people, she added.

This did not mean that Prasa had purchased trains that could not work on the country’s rail system, she said.

Zenani said the assertion that none of the trains would be able to run was not true, and said some of the trains had already been delivered, and are already running between Pretoria and Piennaarspoort. She said this was part of the contract entered into with Gibela in 2013, and formed part of Prasa’s 20 year modernisation programme. President Jacob Zuma launched the Pretoria-Piennaarspoort route in 2017.

While the opening of a multibillion-rand train manufacturing plant in near Nigel on Johannesburg's East Rand on Thursday was hailed by President Cyril Ramaphosa as a boon to the economy, concerns have been raised about how long it will be before the trains are operational.

The height of platforms at train stations and the state of the country's signalling system reportedly mean much work will have to be done before the trains can hit the rails.

Fin24 reported on Thursday that the plant, set up by the Gibela Consortium, is supposed to deliver two new trains by December 2018, an additional nine by March 2019, and an estimated 56 trains over the next two years.

"We will rely on passenger rail to carry millions of South Africans. Our trains transport 2.5 million people every day and will rise to five million people every day, therefore a facility like this is important," Ramaphosa said at the plant's launch on Thursday.

"Therefore it is essential to ensure passenger rail service is safe and affordable," he added.

Transport Minister Blade Nzimande who described the plant as a "historic, state-of-the-art, innovative facility" revealed that the African Union had chosen South Africa to manufacture trains for the entire African continent.

"That is a fantastic achievement," Ramaphosa said in response.

But according to The Citizen, the trains cannot be used yet because the height of commuter station platforms does not correspond with train doors. Major renovations to the commuter line stations will therefore reportedly have to be done.

Adding to the problem is a dispute between the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR) and the Passenger Rail Authority of South Africa (Prasa) because of the reported collapse of the signalling system, The Citizen reported.

Trains would bring relief to Western Cape lines

In an interview with Engineering News in January, Prasa's strategic asset development group executive Piet Sebola said the new trains would bring some much-needed relief in the Western Cape where capacity has been low.

News24 reported last month that the Western Cape needs a minimum of 88 train sets to be fully operational, but only has 42 reliable sets at the moment. This is according to Metrorail spokesperson Zino Mihi. The province has been rocked by vandalism and arson aimed at its trains.

Sebola told Engineering News that the country's signalling system was undergoing a multibillion-rand upgrade. He also said the platforms were too low, and Prasa had not been able to work at the pace it had hoped to rectify this.

"We can't work at the pace we want to, as we have to shut down the station completely and, in some cases, the entire rail corridor too. It seems almost impossible to find a solution that doesn't inconvenience our customers.

"Our customers are insisting that we are the only transport service they can afford. However, any closure of a service to undertake these works impacts them negatively in the short run, but certainly has greater benefit in the long run.

"The project has also proved to be quite challenging, technically speaking, as lifting the platform means a complete reconfiguration of the station," he said.

The RSR wanted to suspend Prasa's safety permit earlier this year but the rail agency approached the courts to prevent this. It would have seen a nationwide shut down of the rail service.

In October, Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Transport grilled Prasa about its apparent lack of progress in fixing its safety issues, according to PoliticsWeb.

In 2015, News24 revealed that thirteen new trains imported by Prasa were too tall for the routes they were intended.

Two years later, the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg set aside that tender after it found that it was rigged, according to TimesLive.

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Read more on:    prasa  |  blade ­nzimande  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  public transport  |  transport  |  rail infrastructure

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