A new State-owned rail and bus public transport utility, dubbed the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), was officially unveiled on Friday with a promise of a R25-billion investment programme over the next three years.
The utility would combine the already merged assets and employees of the South African Rail Commuter Corporation and Metrorail, with those of Shosoloza Meyl and Autopax, the long-distance rail and intercity bus companies respectively, which currently fell under the aegis of freight logistic group Transnet.
Property management and development company Intersite would also be consolidated into the 13 000-plus employee entity to manage, maintain and upgrade stations, as well as to pursue projects that could extract value from the group’s substantial property assets.
Speaking at the launch, which took place symbolically at Park station, in Johannesburg, which is Southern Africa’s largest commuter rail and bus hub, Transport Minister Jeff Radebe indicated that the development of Prasa was central to government’s plan to place rail back at the heart of South Africa’s public transport system.
But he also stressed that the strategy was premised on greater integration between buses, taxis and rail, and outlined his vision for a 24-hour, single ticket system across modes and metropolitan and provincial boundaries.
The sale agreements between Prasa and Transnet for the transfer of Shosoloza Meyl and Autopax into Prasa were meant to be concluded soon. But Radebe also criticised Transnet reported tardiness in ensuring that the deals were concluded and in ensuring that affected employees were properly consulted.
He described this failure as “totally unacceptable”.
Transnet refused to comment on the matter when approached to do so by Engineering News Online.
CROWDING IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR?
Prasa chairperson Sfiso Buthelezi said that the preconsolidated organisation had already materially increased the scale and pace of its investment into the upgrading of both infrastructure and rolling stock.
He said that it would spend R5-billion in 2009/10 and that over the three-year medium-term expenditure framework horizon, a total of R25-billion would be invested to arrest a backlog created by decades of underinvestment.
However, CEO Lucky Montana insisted that this catch-up investment would be insufficient to ensure that the utility was able to increase its capacity much beyond the 643-million passenger journeys currently being achieved.
To move beyond that level, new infrastructure, technology and systems would be required, including high-speed trains to link into the emerging Gautrain rapid-rail network and a possible light-rail investment programme.
Planning was already under way for the proposed development of the so-called Moloto rail corridor, running between Tshwane and Mpumalanga, which would cost of R9,7-billion.
In addition, initial investigations were being pursued in the creation of a high-speed train between Johannesburg and Durban.
Buthelezi indicated that Prasa would be keen to pursue these development in partnership with the private sector, but both he and Montana stressed that the service would only be economically viable and remain affordable if government were to make greater subsidy contributions.
Radebe lauded progress that had been made in stabilising the utility, which he said had been on the brink of collapse in 2004.
Since 2006, some 1 400 coaches had been refurbished at a cost of R4-billion; over 2 000 railway police had been recruited and deployed, which had helped to lower rail-related crime by nearly 40% in the last quarter; and R300-million had been set aside for immediate station refurbishments, which would be completed ahead of the 2010 FIIFA World Cup.