In the first quarter of next year, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) is set to provide further update on the Moloto rail corridor expansion project, which aims to link Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo to ensure that passenger rail is the backbone of an integrated multimodal transport system using proven high-quality rolling stock and equipment.
Last year, Engineering News reported that the project includes network extensions to the Daveyton–Etwatwa rail lines and the construction of the Hammanskraal and Moloto rail corridors.
Phase 1 of the Daveyton–Etwatwa rail extension project is estimated at R2.5-billion, excluding rolling stock. The Hammanskraal rail corridor is estimated at between R600-million and R800-million, excluding rolling stock.
The Moloto rail corridor aspect of the project is expected to cost about R14-billion, excluding rolling stock.
Meanwhile, PRASA’s Cape Town International Airport (CTIA) link project, in the Western Cape, is estimated at R3.2-billion and will extend the rail line between Nonqugubela station (Khayelitsha) and Kuilsriver (Blue Downs). The CTIA link project is estimated at R3.2-billion.
PRASA believes that the Moloto rail corridor expansion project will be a catalyst for economic development initiatives within and around the corridor, resolving challenges of safety, efficiency, reliability, affordability and overall integration with other public transport services.
However, Stellenbosch-based sustainable transport consulting company Transport Futures director Richard Gordge views things differently, as he tells Engineering News that the Moloto passenger rail project, if comprehensively assessed against a range of options, would not likely pass the feasibility test on social, economic or financial grounds.
“There is a clear need for a wider socioeconomic assessment to address the reduction in excessively long daily commutes. Options should include populations being incentivised to relocate closer to the metro or, alternatively, economic opportunities promoted closer to point of commuter trip origins.”
Further, rather than major effort being spent on new line planning, other than the Blue Downs line in Cape Town, which Gordge says is justifiable, protecting and stabilising the current commuter rail system is paramount.
“The demise of passenger rail services is a ‘national disaster’. Cities cannot thrive nor effectively survive if they lose passenger rail mass transit.” he stresses.
Gordge continues, bemoaning that “currently, PRASA with Metrorail is forced to spend a large proportion of management and operational resource time and money responding to criminal activities, train breakdowns and derailments. Sabotage, violent crime and operating with assets beyond their economic life . . . create daily havoc with massive social and economic consequences”.
He believes that the desperately needed new trainsets and resignalling investments which are part of PRASA’s much troubled capital investment programme are already a long way behind schedule, owing to tender and corruption issues. However, Gordge stresses, “government and PRASA must assess the risks of commissioning any new assets very carefully if their protection cannot be assured”.
He says saving and protecting the existing passenger rail fleet and State-owned freight and logistics company Transnet’s infrastructure must be made a national priority.
Gordge believes that, through strong collaboration between Metrorail, PRASA, South African Police Service, metropolitan municipalities, the business sector and local communities, the situation must and can be stabilised.
He asks, “If not, how can we proceed?”
Gordge stresses that it is essential that alternatives to pure copper, with little scrap value, must be specified in new assets and replacements.
Engineering News reported last year that the Moloto rail corridor expansion project involves extending the existing rail line and services about 10 km eastwards from the terminal station in Daveyton into the Chris Hani, Etwatwa and Knoppiesfontein areas. This phase will include the construction of four or five new stations.
Phase 2 will extend the line by a further 18 km and will include the construction of six to eight new stations.
Further, at the Hammanskraal rail corridor, the project involves reintroducing and reinstating the rail service on the existing rail line between Hammanskraal and Pretoria. This includes the upgrading of 45 km of the line and stations.
For the Moloto rail corridor itself, the project entails the Phase 1 construction of 120 km of rail corridor between Tshwane and Siyabuswa and eight to ten stations.
Last year, PRASA indicated that the Daveyton–Etwatwa rail extension project is expected to take 30 to 36 months to complete, the Hammanskraal rail corridor 12 months and the Moloto rail corridor three to four years.