SOUTH AFRICA: Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa restarted services on April 4 between Langa and Nyanga on the strategically important Central Line, part of the Western Cape suburban network which radiates from Cape Town.
The Central Line is made of up of a complex web of lines running broadly south and east from the terminus at Cape Town; Nyanga is located south of Bonteheuwel on the corridor running towards Kapteinsklip and Chris Hani. Initially, trains from Nyanga are running as far as Mutual station; passengers heading towards Cape Town have the option to change trains there or at Langa.
Vandalism and Covid prompt hiatus
Various sections of the three main Prasa networks which serve Cape Town, Gauteng and Durban have been effectively abandoned for long periods over the last few years. In the case of the Central Line through Nyanga, trains had initially been suspended in November 2019 following a spate of vandalism and cable theft. Once train movements ceased, settlers rapidly occupied the alignment around Langa station. According to Prasa, by early 2021 around 8 000 people were living in shacks either on the tracks or within the railway alignment. The authorities have had to remove 1 254 informal settlements in the Langa area.
With the Langa to Nyanga section reopening, Prasa has completed Phase 1 of its Central Line recovery programme. Pre-pandemic, this was the busiest part of the Western Cape network; the Cape Town – Pinelands – Langa, Cape Town – Mutual – Langa and Langa – Bellville sections all reopened in July 2022.
The cost so far of rehabilitating the infrastructure on the Central Line, including station refurbishment, stands at R642m, with R420m spent on the Nyanga to Langa section alone.
On the Cape Town – Langa – Bellville section, 27 km of overhead electrification has been repaired. Prasa has renewed the ballast and sleepers between Pinelands and Langa, and 125 000 rail fastenings have been renewed on the Cape Town – Langa – Bellville route overall. Following vandalism, the overhead electrification equipment has been completely rebuilt over the 7·5 km between Nyanga and Langa.
Attention is now turning to reviving the branch lines south of Nyanga. Sindisiwe Chikunga, who was appointed as national Minister of Transport on March 6, confirmed at the reopening of the route to Nyanga that a second phase of the Central Line renovation will see Prasa reintroduce trains to Chris Hani and Kapteinsklip.
This work is expected to take longer because there are more settlers to relocate and the damage to the infrastructure is thought to be more serious. The minister hoped that work would be completed by the end of March 2024. Prasa says it will have to rehome 3 688 informal residents near Philippi and 253 at Khayelitsha.
‘The relocation process requires an intergovernmental approach that involved all spheres of government, with various committees put in place to ensure the relocation process runs smoothly. A social compact was signed between all three spheres of government involved and the affected communities. We will continue working closely with the Department of Human Settlements and the city of Cape Town in ensuring that the relocation process is completed’, Chikunga said.
The overall cost of restoring the Central Line routes to full operational condition is estimated at R1·2bn by the national Department of Transport.
Rail as the backbone
The minister explained that the extension of the Cape Town – Langa service to Nyanga had been one of Prasa’s 2022-23 financial year commitments.
‘Restoring passenger rail service in the country is a key priority that will put us back on a path towards the realisation of our long-term objective of positioning passenger rail as the backbone of our public transport system’, she insisted. ‘The devastation that we experienced on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic in the form of unprecedented theft and vandalism of public assets and the illegal occupation of the line and rail reserve.
‘The Central Line is a strategic corridor that moves a significant number of people and its recovery will ensure that those who rely on commuter rail for their livelihoods will once again be able to access this affordable mode of transport’, she added.
Alongside the infrastructure renewal work, Prasa is continuing to invest in the Western Cape rolling stock fleet. Its general overhaul programme has seen 147 cars sent for refurbishment, of which 33 have so far been completed. In June last year, Prasa awarded a R7·5bn contract to a consortium of Armature Technology, CTE Investment, Karabo Nhlamolo Projects Cooperative, TMH Africa, and YNF Engineering to provide heavy maintenance and overhaul for its legacy fleet for five years. These ageing trainsets will be withdrawn once a sufficient number of Alstom-Gibela X’Trapolis EMUs have been commissioned.
In 2013, Prasa and the government signed a R51bn contract for the Alstom-led Gibela consortium to manufacture 600 X’trapolis Mega suburban EMUs. Alstom has confirmed for Railway Gazette’s question on April 13 that 150 trainsets have been produced to date, and the last train will be delivered in 2030.