Nearly 8 000 people living on and around the railway lines on Cape Town’s central line have been fingered as the spanner in the works in the battle to get the defunct route back up and running.
Metrorail Western Cape manager Richard Walker on Tuesday told the Western Cape legislature's Standing Committee on Transport and Public Works that 7 844 dwellings have been erected on its land in Langa, Nonqubela and Philippi, affecting its ability to restore operation.
To relocate those who had built their homes on the track would require 55.9 hectares, although 1 350 homes situated next to the rail reserves would need to be cleared soonest to allow work on restoring the line to commence.
Walker said an eviction notice had been obtained and issued to the occupants of the illegal structures, while a final eviction hearing was scheduled for 27 July.
The line had not been operational since 2019 owing to vandalism.
Chair of the Prasa board, Leonard Ramatlakane, said between that time and the reintroduction of rail transport in lockdown Level 3, the "situation got worse".
The central line accommodated 60% of working people in Cape Town and restoring operations would require intergovernmental cooperation, he told the committee.
Ramatlakane said: "Prasa only has a mandate to run trains. We can't allocate land - we don't have land."
Those living on the Prasa land have shown willingness to move, but had asked for an alternative, which the state-owned enterprise said it could not commit to.
The rail service provider had been engaging with local and provincial government in hopes of finding alternative erven on which the people could be accommodated through the "swopping" of land, although this was an extensive process, he said.
DA Western Cape committee spokesperson on Transport and Public Works Ricardo Mackenzie said there had been a 66% decrease in the province's weekday train services since 2019.
Following the briefing to the committee, he said this translated to 293 fewer trains operating per day.
He would table a motion that the "current status of train operations and devolution of rail to capable sub-national governments" be debated in provincial legislature.
"The reduction in the usage of trains is not a novel circumstance in the province. As it currently stands, Prasa experienced at least 92 incidents of theft in the first six months of 2020, with more than 120 recorded in the month of July," Mackenzie said."In addition to there only being 29 functional train sets in the Western Cape - in comparison to more than 80 in 2014 - the state-owned enterprise has witnessed a drastic fall in revenue as a result and has found itself in a dangerous financial predicament."
He said while he welcomed Prasa's confirmation that R790 million would be spent over the next three years to repair and upgrade stations, it would still cost the country's fiscus at least R2.8-billion for the central line recovery programme to be completed.
GOOD's Brett Herron argued that the central line was at one point the busiest rail line in the country, saying it "can't be regarded as acceptable" that it had been inoperable for two years.
"Cape Town's central line, servicing Mitchells Plain, Khayelitsha and at least 20 other communities on its route to Cape Town Central Station, was arguably South Africa's most important rail commuter line. It is the lifeblood of the city," he said after the briefing.
"Its collapse is compounded by the collapse of the MyCiTi N2 Express bus service to Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha. This service was providing over 200 000 passenger trips a month, but has not operated since June 2019 due to the City of Cape Town's inability to resolve an impasse with the service operators."
He charged that 55 hectares of land was not that big in terms of the amount of land the various spheres of government held, saying that he was surprised that this was a stumbling block.