Massive rail upgrade plan

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) is buying new trains, overhauling signalling systems, building a new control centre and modernising stations as part of a bold modernisation drive, which is set to have major spin-offs for the northern suburbs.

The intensive strategy is part of the government’s R172-billion investment programme in rolling out the train system of the future, says Prasa.

Hishaam Emeran, Prasa’s strategic network planning general manager, told Northern News the plan is to be rolled out over the entire network.

Included in the upgrade is the Blue Downs rail link between the Nolungile and Kuils River stations.

“In addition to serving the adjacent communities, it also provides a direct link between the metro south east areas and the Bellville (and surrounds) area,” he said.

The rail line improvements come as part of a general public transport upgrade to ignite urban renewal, economic growth and job creation.

Forming part of the transit-oriented development (TOD) strategic framework, projects have been identified in five areas: Bellville, Philippi East, Athlone, Paardevlei, and the Cape Town CBD over the next five years.

TOD strategic framework serves as the City’s long-term development strategy. It prescribes how new developments across Cape Town should happen and how existing public infrastructure should be transformed to deal with apartheid spatial inequality, the high cost of public transport, and urbanisation while also stimulating economic growth.

Mayoral committee member for transport Brett Herron said Prasa was finalising a study on the Blue Downs rail link between the Nolungile and Kuils River stations. “The study aims to confirm the route alignments and locations of three rail stations,” he said.

“Once the study has been finalised and the implementation schedule confirmed, the City will continue its engagement with Prasa in terms of integrating its land-use and road-based transport initiatives.

“The implementation of the Blue Downs rail link corridor is seen as a catalyst for transit-oriented development by providing opportunities for integrating land-use opportunities adjacent to the corridor.”

Mr Emeran said: “The study confirms the preferred route alignment for the Blue Downs rail link and positioning of future stations. The rail link is approximately 10km long with the three new stations located in the vicinity of the Mfuleni, Blue Downs and Wimbledon areas.”

He added while the feasibility study had now been completed, “the next step is to secure funding for the design and implementation of the rail link. Once funding has been secured, the timelines for implementation can be communicated”.

As far as frequency of the line, Mr Emeran said: “This will be informed by demand. It is anticipated that in the short to medium term, a train frequency of 10 minutes in the peak period (20 minutes in off peak) is planned with the capability of increasing the frequency to six minutes in the peak period when required.”

Mr Herron said: “The project must be seen in the light of Prasa’s overall modernisation programme which includes the addition of new rolling stock. As such there will be greater (rail network) connectivity and increased capacity in the future.

“The line will be integrated into the existing rail network – it is not being planned to provide a shuttle service between the two stations.”

Northern News spoke to some rails users in the Kuils River area who were guardedly optimistic about the new line and the upgrade.

Jolene Williams, of Highbury, said she would welcome the upgrade. “As a rail user, it would be highly beneficial but we’ll have to see when it happens.

“There is a need for more frequent lines, and I am sure that it would also increase commerce in the area.”

Sarepta resident Dawid van Wyk agreed that the “proof was in the pudding”.

He said: “There is a crying need for betterment of the rail services. Most commuters would be really happy to see upgrades here to the line – sometimes there is a long wait to get on a crowded train.”

More than 621 000 people commute regularly in the greater Cape Town area, mainly on the south-east corridor, and Transport and Public Works MEC Donald Grant has been quoted as saying, “There is also an urgent need for more infrastructure to deal with the bottlenecks. The solution is not only rail, but the rail network is the spine.”

The City’s integrated public transport network plan for the next 18 years, as well as the longer-term vision for 2032, recognises rail as the “backbone of public transport” in a city which is expected to hit the 5.6 million population mark by then.