Getting back on track: Mbalula announces Prasa, private sector plan to resuscitate rail services

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula  Photo: Gallo Images
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula Photo: Gallo Images
  • Government on Monday gazetted the national rail policy frameworks that allow the private sector to operate passenger rail services.
  • The move seeks to assist commuters who have been left relying on more expensive taxi and bus services.
  • Deputy director general for rail transport, Ngwako Makaepea, said private sector practitioners interested in entering the passenger rail services were already showing great interest.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has announced that the government has gazetted national rail policy frameworks that allow the private sector to intervene and operate passenger rail services.

Addressing the media on Monday from Wolmerton Train Depot, in Pretoria North, Mbalula said in relation to passenger rail services, the new policy sought to address in particular capacity challenges through allowing private sector investors the opportunity to operate passenger rail services.

"Where Prasa [Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa] cannot run services, the policy introduces concessions on other lines where private sector can operate services. The white paper introduces secondary interventions that will give effect to institutional repositioning and allow for on-rail competition.

"This will then open up the rail market to other operators to compete and improve operational efficiency that is needed to improve service quality and competitive pricing in both the passenger and freight sector," said Mbalula.

With the aim of reviving and revitalising rail transport in South Africa, the government in 2017 submitted the National Rail Policy White Paper which contained an entire suite of investment and institutional interventions envisaged to be completed by 2050.

Remedial interventions on policy focus on infrastructure investment interventions to enhance rail’s inherent competitiveness, and enabling interventions to alter institutional arrangements to ensure that rail functions effectively in delivering its share of the national transport task.

Transnet, whose rail infrastructure has been underperforming after years of underinvestment, widespread copper cable theft and vandalism, also echoed the interventions contained in the white paper last year when the company called for bids until 31 May from private investors.

This was after the company incurred a loss of R8.3 billion in the 2020/21 financial year.

Mbalula said the White Paper also recognised that present sources of funding for freight and passenger rail were inadequate, and that government would have to ensure that additional sources were tapped.

To this end, the White Paper allows for the involvement of the private sector in financing the construction and revamping the ailing rail infrastructure across the country.

The minister said the National Rail Policy was also critical for fast-tracking the implementation of priority structural reforms in the economy to support economic recovery.

"The key policy position on the introduction of third-party access on the rail network is one of the key thrusts to drive efficiencies and improve competitiveness.

"The National Rail Policy will guide the building of the local industry capacity thereby boosting the manufacturing capacity and localisation.

"Government will ensure that industrialisation and the local production of steel and other inputs, rail lines and supplies, and rolling stock is promoted through policies that will require state and private operators to procure all supplies from South African-based manufacturers," Mbablula said.

READ | 'Our trains are going to be running again': Mbalula promises billions to fix SA's ailing rail system

He said the policy would also encourage the entry of black, female and young industrialists as local manufacturers, including through manufacturing joint ventures.

"This will result in introducing an alternative provision of commuter rail in the Republic, thereby providing much needed mobility, addressing funding constraints and enhancing competitiveness of our commuter rail system," he said.

The transport minister added that, through this policy, his department and interested stakeholders would "encourage the use of appropriate technologies to increase productivity and acquisition of much needed skills in the South African economy".

Among other things, the new technologies seek to increase the speed and length of the trains- improving efficiency.  

The white paper presents a multi-decade vision of how SA’s railway sector should evolve over time. Which will provide policy certainty and enable investment and private sector participation in the sector.

Deputy Director General of Rail Transport Ngwako Makaepea said the new policy also meant that the railway infrastructure could be classified as national key points, like airports, meaning the vandalism that had affected the sector would be addressed.

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