All on track for City investigation into taking over passenger rail

29 Apr 2022 in Where We Govern

The City of Cape Town has appointed a professional service provider to conduct a feasibility study on taking over the management of passenger rail from National Government, a move that is supported by the Minister of Finance.

The feasibility study will commence on 1 July 2022, with stipulated deadlines, deliverables, regular feedback and reporting to the City on the progress of the work.

The intention of the feasibility study is to inform the City of the associated financial costs and risks, and which functions of the passenger rail system it should take over, if any, and how to phase this takeover.

‘The study will focus on an approach that is feasible, incremental, and structured. Taking over passenger rail from the National Government is a huge undertaking. We must fully understand what this entails, especially when it comes to the costs as passenger rail in Cape Town has imploded to a level where it is barely functioning. The whole system – from the planning to the operations and management – will need to be overhauled so that it can be the backbone of public transport and the study will assist us in how to approach this takeover,’ said the City’s Mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis.

Since the decline of Cape Town’s rail commuter service, in conjunction with Covid-19 restrictions, it is estimated that over the last decade, approximately 570 000 passenger trips per day have shifted from passenger rail to road-based transport modes.

‘Due to the implosion of passenger rail, most commuters in Cape Town have shifted to road-based transport, which is more expensive and time-consuming because of traffic congestion and limited capacity on our road network during the morning and afternoon peak hour periods.

‘PRASA has neglected passenger rail for decades. A lack of investment, maintenance, vandalism and crime have led to a loss of assets, illegal occupation of rail reserves, and a collapse of most services. In 1995 the network of 270km was served by 95 train sets, by December 2019 there were 44 sets in operation. The central line, the most popular and needed line serving the metro-south east, is not operating.

‘Cape Town’s commuters need a reliable, safe, affordable, efficient and integrated public transport system with passenger rail as its backbone. People should be able to get to work on time and with ease. Economic growth relies on a productive workforce, and the bigger and healthier our economy, the more jobs will be created, and with that comes improved living conditions and livelihoods. Thus, the study must inform us in how best to take over passenger rail to ensure Cape Town has a world class public transport system to serve our residents and city,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Urban Mobility, Councillor Rob Quintas.

Some of the outcomes of the feasibility study are as follows:

  • Develop a feasible, incremental and structured approach for an improved passenger rail service in terms of planning, operations, and management
  • Identify and evaluate financing mechanisms for the provision of operations and capital investment
  • Determine the financial implications for the restoration and sustainability of passenger rail services

The team undertaking the study consists of experts in rail operations and rail engineering; project management; transport planning; strategists in rail business, facilities and asset management; a transport economist; a legal specialist, and rail safety and security specialist.

‘First off, the service provider will determine the status quo of the current passenger rail system and operations, assets and conditions. It must also take into consideration PRASA’s modernisation programme and future rail extensions, including the risks associated with capital funding of these projects. They must also consider international best practice, devise an institutional structure and competitive and sustainable business model. A safety and security risk assessment must form part of the baseline studies.

‘A critical component is the financial viability of the City taking over passenger rail, and our ability to afford and maintain the system. Budget allocation and subsidisation will require detailed and ongoing engagement with the National Department of Transport and the Treasury,’ said Councillor Quintas.

Mr. Enoch Godongwana, the National Minister of Finance, has commended the City for undertaking the feasibility study, stating in a letter to Councillor Quintas, that: ‘A study of this kind is essential as the assignment and delegation framework demands that the government recognises the current capacity constraints faced by many municipalities. I wish you all of the best in your endeavours.’

In this letter dated 15 April 2022, Minister Godongwana has also confirmed that the White Paper on Transport Policy, the draft White Paper on Rail Policy, as well as the National Land Transport Act, Constitution and Municipal Systems Act, support the approach the City is taking to understand the implications of its intention in taking over passenger rail from PRASA.

Mayor Hill-Lewis added, ‘Minister Mbalula’s response yesterday afternoon explicitly confirms that the White Paper does support and envisage the devolution of the passenger rail function to the metro. This is very encouraging. The Minister’s further statement of support for our feasibility study is also welcome news.’