Industry-related forum Transport Forum custodian Harry van Huyssteen believes that the major rail infrastructure projects in South Africa could be better implemented if there was improved regulation and legislation.
Van Huyssteen’s comments follow the proposed National Rail Policy by the Department of Transport (DoT), which intends to place rail on a sound footing to collaborate with and compete against other transport modes to be the transport backbone by 2050.
Currently, a Draft White Paper, the proposed National Rail Policy is promoting the devolution of rail to provincial and local authorities, he highlights.
Van Huyssteen points to bus services, such as Johannesburg Metrobus and the bus rapid transit systems, as projects that municipal authorities have taken responsibility for, adding that the same can be achieved for rail to ensure proper regulation and legislation.
“Local authorities, according to the National Land Transport Act (2009), should also take more responsibility in bringing about sustainable transport solutions. The latter is only possible if the private sector is allowed to invest . . . The draft also refers to the Single Transport Economic Regulator, which should enhance this process.”
Van Huyssteen adds that a top-down approach is needed to bring about collaboration in the rail industry. Relevant ownership in terms of infrastructure provision, maintenance and operational efficiency should be performance-managed according to clear deadlines. The proposed National Rail Policy and the eventual Rail Act called for in the draft policy, should contribute to this.
Further, decision-making “closer to the customer” – commuters, consumers, and cargo owners and shippers – should bring about tailored commercial platforms that should be integrated into the public-transport space, he points out.
Van Huyssteen explains that, should the Draft White Paper be accepted by Parliament, the country should see exciting developments, such as mono-rail, light rail and tram services, besides other modes of transport, introduced by local authorities to deliver better services.
The private and public sectors should collaborate to leverage these opportunities, and authorities should promulgate relevant by-laws to pave the way for the proposed National Rail Policy, he says.
Draft White Paper
Engineering News reported in February that the Draft White Paper, set to become legislation in 2018/19, will provide policy direction for the rail sector for the first time in 150 years.
DoT rail deputy director-general Jan-David de Villiers reportedly said that effective and efficient rail policies will result in investment, growing the modal share and increasing national and international trade. “South Africa’s high cost of logistics is out of line globally, so high-performance rail will have an immediate positive impact.”
The primary intervention the Draft White Paper proposes is rail sector investment. De Villiers also mentions that the investment backlog affecting rail is best illustrated by the value of the country’s road infrastructure and rolling assets, at R2.284-trillion, compared with rail’s R229-billion.
The idea of the Draft White Paper is to exploit rail in high-speed, heavy-haul, heavy intermodal (such as double-stacked containers) as well as urban and regional rapid transit use, where it offers the safest, most economical and environment-friendly mobility solution.