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Monday Feb 27, 2012

Premier pushes KZN rail revolution

Premier Zweli Mkhize has promised a rail revolution in KwaZulu-Natal that will change the way we travel and ease congestion on the province's roads.

Passengers board a train in Umlazi.

But opposition parties say the feasibility of some of the projects has not been fully scrutinised and public consultation has been inadequate.

During his state of the province address this week, Mkhize said rail should become "the backbone of public transport in the province".

"Our long-term strategy recognises the important role that rail transport, both freight and passenger, should have in the province's development, as well as the need to facilitate greater mobility and access for all the people of our province.

"We expect Prasa (the Passenger Rail Association of SA) to invest more than R5 billion in the province over the next five years," he said.

Metrorail is contributing to the upgrades.

The first project involves R30 million on a Business Express service between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Mkhize said this would be running in April.

Metrorail spokeswoman Thandi Mkhize said the service would start from the Durban station and stop at Rossburgh before making its final stop at Pietermaritzburg station.

"The express will aim at government workers and business people. It will have business and executive class coaches, conference and dining facilities."

Coaches, the rail line and three stations would be revamped.

Monthly users will be targeted first but, depending on demand, Metrorail will look at weekly or single ticket trips. The monthly tickets are expected to cost about R1 500, depending on travel class.

It will take longer to travel between the two cities by rail than it does to drive. But Mkhize said "passengers will be able to read, respond to e-mails and have internet access on board through the wireless system".

The main benefit is that regular travellers on the route will avoid the traffic.

When the roads are clear, the drive takes about 45 minutes, but just one accident can make the trip take several hours.

"Business Express is aimed at reducing traffic congestion, which can lead to road carnage," she said.

But DA provincial leader Sizwe Mchunu expressed doubts. "We wonder whether this has been tested on the public. What are the public views?" He said it was unclear how many people would use the service.

Mchunu also questioned whether all the projects would get off the ground.

"Rail has become a song and dance of every state of the province address. The premier raises it, but we haven't seen action or public consultation. So we reserve our appreciation of these projects until we see the trains moving.

"It's also unclear how much the province is going to be putting in this. We await a detailed plan indicating funding sources, costs and overall rollout plans," he said.

One project widely welcomed is the R1.2bn link between KwaMashu and Umlazi, which would link the north and south of Durban along existing but upgraded rail lines.

When completed, possibly within three years, the service will cater for 18 000 passengers during peak hours and up to 90 000 people a day.

Most of this money has gone into building a new train station at the Umlazi Mega City shopping complex, with Metrorail picking up the tab.

Perhaps the most radical plan is to link King Shaka International Airport with Durban CBD. Mkhize said a feasibility study would be undertaken for this and it could include a link to the Cornubia housing project and North Coast hotel belt.

Sunday Tribune

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