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Friday Apr 20, 2012

Government plans more investment in public transport

Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele has unveiled a R173 billion bidding process for Metrorail's stock fleet renewal programme.

In total, 7 224 metro coaches would be commissioned by the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), which owns Metrorail.

"These are modern trains that will be built in South Africa with the aim of revitalising the rail engineering industry, promoting local manufacturing, creating an estimated 65 000 jobs and developing a new generation of railway workers, in the form of engineers and artisans," Ndebele said yesterday.

The rolling stock programme would continue for the next 20 years.

It would catalyse a comprehensive passenger rail programme. With local manufacturing and content at 65 percent, the project was expected to create 66 000 direct and indirect jobs.

From 2015, the first elements of a modern commuter train system would be put in place. This would be achieved through the acquisition of new rolling stock, and a modernisation programme valued at R25.9bn in direct infrastructure investments. Both passenger and freight rail would be recapitalised.

Most coaches now in use were built in the 1960s and 1970s, he said, with 1950s technology still in use.

The new, modern trains would be similar to those used in Italy, Spain, France, the UK, Brazil, and Portugal, he said. They were energy efficient, had a high carrying capacity, and were much lighter, as they were made from aluminium not steel.

"Prasa's key objective is to promote rail as the preferred mode of transport for most of our people."

Metrorail was still one of the most affordable public transport modes available - "our transport goal is about promoting public transport over private car use."

Following the public outcry over Gauteng's toll roads, Ndebele said sustainable transport solutions had to be found. Private cars were no longer sustainable for the country.

People in Tshwane, Midrand or northern Joburg could use the Gautrain between Pretoria, Sandton, and the airport. In addition, seven Metrorail Business Express trains were available every working day.

Four of these journeyed from Pretoria to Joburg, taking an hour and costing R1 057 a month.

Another three trains ran between Soweto and Joburg, taking 40 minutes, at a cost of R413 a month.

"This must be compared with the operating cost of a private vehicle, of almost R1 800 a month, plus the almost 1.5 hours of travel time on some of Gauteng's un-tolled roads."

The minister had instructed Prasa to improve the Business Express, so that services were available every 30 minutes in peak hours.

"The improvements on the Ben Schoeman Highway, as a direct result of the Gauteng freeway improvement project, has made it possible to travel between Pretoria and Joburg within an hour."

Roads which were not tolled had higher travel times and traffic congestion.

The government had a duty to invest public funds in favour of the majority who did not have cars, he said.

Ndebele also wanted travel times halved within the next five years in key intercity rail corridors, such as Pretoria-polokwane-musina and Joburg-durban. Trains should move at 160 km/h on these corridors, he said.

High-speed trains should also link SA with other cities in the region, and the rest of Africa.

Prasa said it had begun a parallel investment process within its services. It was investing in a new rail signalling project in Gauteng, worth R1bn, and a new central train control centre.

A series of projects to enhance capacity was under way. Stations were being improved and upgraded and new ones being built.

"Prasa has already started preparing for the new trains, not only to complement the government's contribution, but to also improve our stations and customer experience," chief executive Lucky Montana said.

Prasa had set aside R25.9bn of its own money over the next three years to invest in infrastructure development at station level, Montana said.

Pretoria News


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