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Wednesday Sep 10, 2014

Rail must remain backbone of Cape Town's transport network

Cape Town developments including the R15 billion Two Rivers Urban Park project will be dead in the water if funding for public transport at all levels of government is not prioritised.

'There is a shortage of funding in public transport, period,' said Transport and Public Works MEC Donald Grant at yesterday's inaugural meeting of the City of Cape Town's Land Transport Advisory Board.

He appealed to the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), Metrorail and Transnet to co-operate to get rail projects running.

Grant said the city already had a crippling shortage of train sets. 'We have 81 but we need about 120.'

With 621 000 people commuting regularly, mainly on the south-east corridor, there was also an urgent need for more infrastructure to deal with the bottlenecks.

'The solution is not only rail, but the rail network is the spine.'

Grant said the national transport minister was putting a task team together to review public transport because national Treasury had not allocated sufficient funds for this. Among the transport developments discussed at the meeting were:

A 'bold' R170bn plan for Prasa to modernise its rail network locally and nationally over the next 10 years.

The extension of the Chris Hani rail link to Somerset West.

A proposed Cape Town Airport rail link and improved transport access to outlying areas, including Paarl and Stellenbosch.

The establishment of a regional taxi working group to allow for dialogue between the city, taxi operators and other public transport operators.

At the meeting Prasa outlined its multibillion-rand plan to modernise its national rail network in the next decade.

The city's integrated public transport network plan for the next 18 years, as well as the longer-term vision for 2032, recognises rail as the 'backbone of public transport' in a city which is expected to hit the 5.6-million population mark by then.

But Hishaam Emeran, Prasa's general manager of strategic network planning, said 'funding was not yet on the table'.

Still at the planning stage, the modernisation of Prasa's network would likely get the funding once it was elevated to presidential strategic integrated project status.

Emeran said the plan would be 'a whole package' and would include new depots, signalling systems and modernised stations'.

'In the past three to four decades there has been an under-investment in rail and the city has grown.'

Speaking of Prasa's plans nationally, he said: 'We need to renew and modernise. We can't continue to just make changes.'

Prasa was also looking at replacing its rolling stock nationally, at a cost of R125bn, over the next 20 years.

Although the first batch of new trains to arrive by 2016 would come from a factory in Brazil, after that the new trains would be From page 1 produced in South Africa at a factory in Ekurhuleni.

The new trains would be redesigned to allow for higher capacity, would be more energy efficient and would come with air conditioning, WiFi on metro access trains and improved security.

Prasa's extensive plan would, however, bring its own challenges in terms of capacity constraints.

Emeran said only 14 percent of the current signalling system being used nationally had not reached the end of its design life. The first phase of improving signalling in the Western Cape would cost about R1.8bn, and would be completed by 2018.

Meanwhile, about a third of Prasa's coaches were not operational, Emeran said.

Passenger numbers had also dropped from an annual 800 million to about 550 million. Emeran said this loss of patronage could be attributed to the service's various challenges, as well as the pull of taxis for commuters opting for demandbased transport. Most rail commuters were 'captive' consumers, with no other transport options.

More than 130 stations nationwide have been earmarked for upgrades, including Philippi and Nolungile stations in Cape Town.

Gershwin Fortune, manager of the city's integrated rapid transit system planning, said the 10km corridor would relieve congestion at Langa and Bonteheuwel. It would take about three and a half years to complete. While much of the corridor falls with rail reserves, portions of the proposed route had been 'encroached' on by informal settlements.

Other plans by Transport for Cape Town to improve the city's rail network include the extension of the Chris Hani rail link to Somerset West.

Fortune said that if the proposed development for the Helderberg area fell short of expectations, this plan would be modified to provide more feeder buses instead of additional rail services.

Improved transport access to outlying areas, including Paarl, Stellenbosch and Somerset West forms part of the city's 20-year transport plan for 2032.

It looks at improving the viability and efficiency of public transport and development throughout the city. All forms of land-based transport are factored into the plan, including rail; the bus rapid transit network; feeder buses, minibus taxis and metered taxis as well as nonmotorised transport.

This plan was approved in June and the operational parameters - including the size of the fleet and frequency of various services - for this should go to the council for approval at the end of December.

Fortune said the city would focus on transport orientated development as part of its 20-year plan.

'The integrated public transport network gives the city an idea of where it can build transport infrastructure. It also looks at linkages to surrounding municipal areas.'

While the city centre and Bellville would remain the city's primary transport nodes, projections have indicated that there would be surge in commuter traffic from Somerset West because of planned developments in that area. But the preferred mode of transport to the Winelands areas would be rail, rather than another bus rapid transit corridor.

Cape Argus


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