City hopes feasibility study gives them the inside track

Cape Town’s urban rail network consists of about 270 km, 119 stations, staging yards and depots, mostly owned by Prasa. PHOTO: Supplied

Cape Town’s urban rail network consists of about 270 km, 119 stations, staging yards and depots, mostly owned by Prasa. PHOTO: Supplied
With the City of Cape Town’s feasibility study on taking over the management of passenger rail from the national government underway, an expert in public transport has expressed the worry that the train may have already left the station.

Prof Roger Behrens, Director: Centre for Transport Studies, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Cape Town (UCT), says parts of South Africa’s railway infrastructure have essentially been stripped.

“I just hope it is not too late. Three or four years ago, transport operators in the private sector were quite keen on being partners in rail. They might be looking at the current infrastructure and be thinking, ‘We can’t replace the rolling stock, resuscitate infrastructure and take on operating concessions’.”

On Friday 1 July, the feasibility study started with SMEC South Africa as the appointed professional services provider to conduct the study.

Rob Quintas, the City’s Mayco member for urban mobility, says the City’s vision is to create a fully integrated public transport system, which will include passenger rail as its backbone. “But first off, we need to understand the feasibility, risk, and implications for the City by taking over passenger rail from the national government. The study will address these burning questions, especially as passenger rail in Cape Town has imploded to a level where it is barely functioning,” says Quintas.

Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis says a critical requirement for the study is access to all of the financial and technical information associated with operating the current rail system.

“We need the cooperation of Prasa, and the National Department of Transport,” he says.

He cites the White Paper on National Rail Policy as a reason to hope for “a collaborative, cooperative effort”.

Approved on 23 March, the White Paper acknowledges the importance of devolving public transport functions to the lowest level of the government. The Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula, stated that “the Department of Transport would work on a framework with the South African Local Government Association (Salga) to guide efforts by municipalities to build requisite capacity that will enable the assignment based on the capacity of cities to manage the rail function within the broader ambit of its Integrated Public Transport Plan”.

The White Paper also introduces secondary interventions “that will give effect to institutional repositioning and allow for on-rail competition”. In other words, private sector participation – with the emphasis on participation only. Behrens cautions that devolving rail functions to the City may be more difficult than the White Paper suggests.

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