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Monday Sep 15, 2014

Big plans for commuter trains

Air conditioning, wi-fi and maybe a free newspaper or coffee with your ticket? While not an experience one usually associates with public transport, in a few years this is exactly what commuters could get when hopping aboard a train to work.

An artist's impression of the new train.

The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) is working on a huge overhaul of the rail agency's fleet and performance, expected to cost R170 billion over the next 10 years, that will include faster and more reliable trains that are clean, efficient and safe.

The 'modern train', which will replace its current ageing stock - some with '1950s technology' - will resemble the contemporary speed trains seen in Europe. And by 2020, most of these trains will be produced locally at a factory in Ekurhuleni.

At the first meeting of the Land Transport Advisory Board, set up by the City of Cape Town's Transport for Cape Town, Prasa outlined its plans, and challenges, for 2016 and beyond.

'It's the whole package - new depots, signalling and modern train stations,' said Prasa general manager of strategic network planning Hishaam Emeran.

'We need to redevelop and modernise, we can't keep making changes,' he said.

One of the first initiatives will be to improve the speed and punctuality of trains. Emeran said most of Prasa's users were 'captive', meaning that rail is their only transport option.

By improving travel time and sorting out the delays in waiting for trains, it was hoped that passengers would once again choose rail because it was the most efficient option.

An artist's impression of the interior.

Emeran said Prasa had already designed clock-face, or regular interval, timetables, but that the infrastructure required to accommodate more frequent trains still needed to be introduced.

Prasa will replace its rolling stock over the next 20 years at a cost of R125bn. The fleet requirement is about 7 224 new coaches. The trains currently come from Brazil, which poses challenges when it comes to repairs and maintenance. But by 2020, more than 65 percent of the total value of the trains will be locally produced at a factory in Ekurhuleni.

An artist's impression of the interior.

Emeran said the first of the new coaches, expected to arrive by 2016, would have a higher capacity with just over 1 300 passengers per six-car train. The Metro Express coaches will have 1 186 passengers per sixcar train. Furthermore, the new trains will include: Air conditioning. Modern visual and audio information. Real-time data travel information. Wi-fi on the Metro Express. Crashworthy, 'energy-absorbing' car bodies and CCTV coverage with two weeks of data storage, as well as a black box event recorder. Powered, automatic doors. Open gangways that would allow for visibility throughout the train.

The City of Cape Town has included Prasa's forward-thinking proposals for the transformation of its rail network by 2050 in its Integrated Transport Development Plan of 2032.

The plans include improved integration between rail and other modes of public transport and a review of its rail corridors. Cape Town's Blue Downs Rail corridor is one of the immediate development priorities.

Prasa has identified 135 stations nationally for upgrades. Turnstiles will be replaced with speed gates, and the stations will use electronic display boards and provide commercial opportunities. Other changes to the rail network system include:

  • Flexible ticketing with a premium offer.

  • A more customer-focused service.

  • Improved passenger security and enhanced station facilities.

  • New depots that will be able to support and service the new train sets when the arrive in 2016.

    In Cape Town, priority for this refurbishment will be given to the south east corridor, from Cape Town to Strandfontein via Mitchells Plain.

    There are also plans to extend the rail network to Stellenbosch, Paarl and Somerset, which is expected to become the region's third biggest commercial node.

    Cape Argus

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