“I am really happy the trains are back. My wallet can now breathe a sigh of relief,” said Doctor Twala after disembarking from a train at the once deserted Mabopane Station.
Twala was one of the 300 000 commuters who were left stranded after services on the Mabopane-Pretoria line were shut down for repairs in August after overhead cables, train tracks and signalling equipment were stolen.
The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) initially expected trains to be back in operation in November. After failing to meet that deadline, the agency blamed a strike in the metal industry and bad weather.
It then set the deadline to the second week of January.
After missing the second deadline, Prasa spokesperson Andiswa Makanda explained that their technical teams found it hard to work due to heavy rainfall. Services finally returned on Monday.
Speaking to City Press on Tuesday, Twala said he had to resort to using taxis for his daily commute from Pretoria West to Mabopane.
“Taxis are expensive. Using them cost me double what it cost me using the train. I had to find an extra R1 000 so I could afford taxis. You can understand how this affected me.
He said that he hoped Prasa would safeguard the new trains and infrastructure.
“I am happy with these new trains. They are clean and comfortable. Even the stations are clean. I hope things stay like this,” he said.
Speaking during an oversight visit to monitor progress on the northern line of the Cape Town central line on Monday, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said after the country went under lockdown, which led to Prasa ceasing services, the agency’s infrastructure was left exposed and became victim to “wholesale theft and vandalism”.
Mbalula said he was satisfied that infrastructure upgrades were on track to “salvage a dilapidated network that has been brought to its knees by criminal conduct”.
“These upgrades will be reinforced by a security model that relies on tight collaboration with law enforcement,” he said.
The minister told Parliament in November that the agency’s security plans included deploying a further 5 000 guards sourced through various private security service providers and building four-metre tall “impenetrable” and “vandal-proof” walls fitted with CCTV and electric fencing.
On Monday, Mbalula said the return of commuter rail services was within the context of the broader repositioning of commuter rail as the “backbone of our public transport system”.
“The White Paper on National Rail Policy which will be tabled before Cabinet in the coming weeks firmly articulates structural and operational changes ... The policy will introduce radical measures to overhaul the country’s rail system to make it competitive, efficient, safe and reliable. This includes the introduction of private sector participation and concessions in both passenger and freight rail,” he said.