Golden Arrow owner wants to help Western Cape solve its passenger rail woes


The company that owns Western Cape bus service Golden Arrow is aiming to become a private participant in the province's struggling passenger rail sector, saying Prasa's woes have resulted in delays and congestion for its bus services. 

The Financial Mail reported earlier in the month that Hosken Passenger Logistics & Rail (HPL&R) had spent between R600 000 and R700 000 on a proposal to national government and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) on its possible involvement in the rail sector n the province. HPL&R spokesperson Bronwen Dyke-Beyer told Fin24 that HPL&R has indeed invested in a comprehensive proposal which is Public Private Partnership compliant.

"The proposal is for a pilot project rail corridor concession which would be based on a partnering and collaborative model comprised of HPL&R, Prasa and the National Department of Transport. "The primary aim would be to use private capital to stabilise, optimise and further develop a selected rail line in Cape Town," Dyke-Beyer said. 

Daily railway services in and around Cape Town have been repeatedly interrupted by theft, vandalism and strikes, while passengers face delays and crime. Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula in July announced a steering committee and a ministerial war room to play an oversight role n an attempt to turn the passenger rail service around strategy. Among the interventions proposed by the minister are better train performance, improved safety management and the implementation of a modernisation programme. Passenger trips plunged from 634 million in 2010 to 208 million in the 2018-19 financial year, a 67% decrease during the period. 

Dyke-Beyer said that in light of the fact that  Prasa has been battling with security issues, HPL&R's proposal emphasises the need for a comprehensive safety and security plan. "We have therefore created a safety and security plan which has the necessary budgetary backing to mitigate the type of security risks currently faced by Prasa."

Congestion for buses

Asked why HPL&R is considering entering in the rail sector when it operates buses, Dyke-Beyer said the rail system in the Western Cape has had "a number of negative impacts" on Golden Arrow.

"While rail was still fully functional, Golden Arrow were running optimally with peak services already at capacity based on the patronage of loyal passengers.

"The mass migration of rail passengers to other forms of public transport has meant that loyal long-term passengers now experience less optimal conditions as a result of this greater demand and must also contend with longer travel times as a result of increased congestion," she said.

Dyke-Beyer added that historical data shows a correlation between "better, faster" bus services when rail is fully functional. HPL&R's majority shareholder Hosken Consolidated Investments also supports the decision, she said.

158 years of experience

Dyke-Beyer said that HPL&R has the advantage over other private sector players, in that it has a 158-year experience in running Golden Arrow. Rail and bus operations require similar operational systems to function effectively, she suggested.

"Both need to be micro-managed by a disciplined, hands-on management team and HPL&R is confident that our team would be able to make great strides in providing rail services that are efficient and reliable."

The group has also been in discussion with international rail operators for collaborations that will complement the proposal.

"We believe there is a great deal of potential for introducing the latest technologies through these partnerships and have the necessary capital within the group to fund such endeavours."

Economic discussion paper

Private sector involvement in state rail is one of the proposals in National Treasury's economic discussion paper to revive economic growth published in August. 

"Granting third-party access to the core rail network is crucial for promoting private sector participation in rail and concessioning of branch lines," the paper states. 

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