While the Gibela factory in Gauteng has started to steadily produce new, made-in-South Africa trains for the Metrorail system in South Africa, it appears it may take some time before these trains all start carrying passengers.
The Gibela Rail Transport Consortium is to deliver 600 new trains (3 600 cars) to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), in a R59-billion deal signed in 2014. This deal forms part of a 20-year, R172-billion programme to improve the Metrorail service in South Africa on the whole, including signalling systems and station infrastructure.
State-owned entity PRASA operates Metrorail.
Metrorail is currently running 18 new trains on the Pienaarspoort – Pretoria corridor, with these trains certified by the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) to carry passengers during off-peak and afternoon peak periods.
Another two have been approved for testing on Gauteng North corridors and may not carry passengers for operational purposes, says the RSR.
The Western Cape has also received two test trains, with these arriving in April.
There are no new trains certified to carry passengers in the Western Cape yet.
Metrorail in KwaZulu-Natal – PRASA’s third and last Metrorail operation region – has not yet received any new trains.
The trains operating on Gauteng’s Pienaarspoort – Pretoria corridor have been certified to carry passengers as the corridor and the 18 trains have been deemed sufficiently safe by the RSR.
It took PRASA 18 months to prepare this corridor for the new trains.
“Trial operations are meant to assist PRASA to understand their new assets and how the current infrastructure can impact the performance of these assets,” says RSR spokesperson Madelein Williams.
“It also gives the operator the opportunity to learn passenger behaviour when interacting with the new trains. Before trial operations commenced, conditions were set by the RSR for PRASA to evaluate during the trial operations and to produce a report which the RSR will review before allowing PRASA to start with full revenue earning services.”
These conditions include a working signalling system, a safe track and the fencing of the rail reserve, for example.
“After the completion of their tests and once PRASA have mitigated all the risks in the corridor, they can apply for full revenue earning services,” notes Williams.
The question, however, is when PRASA will be able to meet the conditions set by the RSR.
PRASA stated in 2017 that it was hopeful that the 18 trains on the Pienaarspoort – Pretoria corridor would have been able to service the Atteridgeville – Pretoria line by the second quarter of 2018, followed by the Johannesburg – Pretoria line.
This has, however, not happened.
PRASA spokesperson Nana Zenani says Metrorail faces a massive challenge in terms of modernising its corridors to be able to accept any new rolling stock, owing to rampant theft, arson and vandalism, with the courts rarely imposing the maximum sentences on those responsible for the damage.
Meanwhile, however, Gibela’s factory will not stand still, with peak production set at 62 trains a year.
Zenani says Metrorail has depots in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape able to house the new trains.
The work of the Western Cape’s Rail Enforcement Unit (REU), funded by PRASA, the Western Cape government and the City of Cape Town, indicates the criminality prevalent within the Metrorail system.
In the twelve months after the formation of the REU in 2018, the teams have responded to 258 incidents, which resulted in 347 arrests, says Zenani. Of the 186 cases presented to court, bail was denied in every case, with 27 successful convictions secured, with a combined total of 177 years imprisonment.
Damages for the 12 months amounted to R134.1-million.
The most targeted material proved to be underground signal cable, with 93% of this recovered by the REU.
Can the REU then not be duplicated in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal?
PRASA does not have the funding to do so, says Zenani.
The operating cost of the Western Cape REU was R48-million for the first 12 months.
The problem is also that the South African Police Service (SAPS) believes it is the job of PRASA to look after its assets, and not that of the SAPS.
The situation in South Africa’s commuter rail sector, is also not helped by the fact that PRASA has an interim board, chairperson and CEO. A number of its executives have also been suspended.
South Africa has also had five different transport ministers in the last seven years.
PRASA falls under the Department of Transport.