The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) is accelerating its infrastructure modernisation programme in anticipation of the acquisition of new rolling stock, while also creating capacity for increased commuter demand, says group CEO Lucky Montana.
He notes that although more than 40% of the R25.9-billion funding granted to Prasa up to the 2013/14 financial year will go to maintaining existing rolling stock to ensure acceptable service levels, more than R13.5-billion will be channelled to infrastructure modernisation, aimed at ensuring compatibility with the new-generation rolling stock expected to start local testing in 2015.
The R25.9-billion capital investment excludes the acquisition of a new train fleet over the next 20 years, valued at more than R123-billion.
Prasa’s infrastructure modernisation programme encompasses a number of projects, and will create up to 7 000 direct construction and downstream industry jobs over the next three years, says Montana.
The modernisation of the signalling systems on the Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape corridors over the next five to ten years is valued at more than R17-billion.
Phase 1 of what Montana calls the “resignalling” of Gauteng has already started, to the value of R1-billion. Tenders for the resignalling of the KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape networks have closed, with implementation to start during this financial year, he adds.
Owing to capacity constraints and increased demand, Prasa is also executing two capacity- enhancement projects. The first is the Bridge City development, north of Durban, and the second the Greenview project, east of Tshwane.
Both projects are large, multi- year infrastructure capacity expansion projects which will be completed during 2013, says Montana.
The Bridge City project consists of a new station, a public transport intermodal facility and a 3.2 km rail extension from the existing rail network into the Bridge City development.
The Greenview capacity- improvement project involves the construction of a new station, two station upgrades, a road-over-rail bridge, and the doubling of a 4.5 km rail section, which is 60% complete.
“The Tshwane capacity inter- vention will provide a 50% increase in passenger capacity on that line,” notes Montana.
The infrastructure investment programme also includes a general national station improvement and upgrade roll-out. More than 50 stations form part of this programme, with a total investment of more than R1-billion.
Station projects include the building of commercial facilities to enhance revenue generation at stations, establishing intermodal connectivity, as well as the installation of access control gates, electronic display boards for train schedules, electronic customer help points, security cameras and public address systems.
A rail track, platform and electrification rehabilitation programme consists of rail track, foundation, station platform, electrification and footbridge rehabilitation on various rail sections. The elimination of high-risk level crossings is also included in the programme. More than R400-million will be spent on these projects over the next three years, says Montana.
In order to plan for future growth and expansion of the commuter rail network, Prasa is also accelerating planning and feasibility studies on four priority projects.
The feasibility studies into these projects will inform the viability, funding and implementation schedule of the individual projects, says Montana.
The projects include a 7.5 km rail extension to serve the Motherwell community and the future Coega harbour and indus- trial development, in the Eastern Cape; a phased rail extension from Nasrec to the greater Soweto and Lenasia areas; extension of the existing rail line with a phased rail extension into the Chris Hani, Etwatwa and Greater Daveyton development areas; and the rehabilitation of the rail service on the existing Hammanskraal railway line, providing rail access to the rapidly growing northern areas of Tshwane.
As for Prasa’s rolling stock fleet renewal programme, aimed at procuring 7 224 rail vehicles over a 20-year period, Montana is hopeful of reaching financial closure for the first tranche of the deal in July 2013.
“There are many lessons we should draw from the Prasa rolling stock fleet renewal programme,” he adds.
“The first is that we are doing it despite the fact that Prasa does not have the balance sheet to fund such a massive project. However, the needs of the country over the next 30 years are so critical that without an efficient and functioning rail system, our attempts to grow and sustain our cities and economy will never work.
“We are pleased government has recognised this. We have found it more expensive to fund this programme through the private sector than delivering it through the national fiscus. I think there is a strong lesson here for Africa.”