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Cape Town seeks suburban rail devolution

27 Mar 2019

SOUTH AFRICA: Plans to transfer the operation of commuter services from Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa to an organisation appointed by the city council were confirmed on March 26 when the city announced that four bids had been received for a tender to provide consultancy services.

Through its Metrorail Western Cape business unit, the state-owned PRASA runs a dense electrified suburban rail service on a series of routes radiating from the Cape Town terminus. However, in recent years the network has been badly affected by a surge in crime and anti-social behaviour, while the reliability and governance crises affecting PRASA across the country have compounded the situation.

‘We’re determined to restore commuters’ faith in passenger rail as it should be the backbone of public transport in Cape Town’, said Felicity Purchase, Member for Transport & Urban Development on Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee. Explaining that the city was now evaluating the tenders which had been received by the closing date of February 28, Purchase said that a multi-disciplinary team of rail professionals would assist the city’s Transport Directorate with high-level business plans for taking over passenger rail in Cape Town from PRASA. The team would be asked to develop ‘a feasible and incremental plan’, but Purchase warned that the transition would not happen overnight.

The team would be expected to have specialist skills and experience in railway operations and engineering, as well as business re-engineering and development, track and structures, rolling stock, signalling, concessions, electrical systems and stations. ‘We’ve stipulated in the tender that the preferred service provider will have to acquire the skills of professionals who have decades’ experience in the urban rail environment’, Purchase said, adding that ‘we want the best of the best to assist us with this very important task’.

‘The assignment of the urban rail service will have long-term implications for residents and commuters’, she continued, pointing out that ‘it will affect our long-term spatial planning and our local economy’, as well as having an impact on PRASA, its divisions and personnel, and its service providers. ‘Thus, whatever we do must be done with the utmost care and diligence, and must adhere to the highest professional standards’.

The consultants will initially evaluate and set out options for assignment, determining whether rail operations should be transferred wholly or partly to the city. Financial and other risks will be assessed, along with proposals for obtaining resources, including personnel and other assets.

Once the initial phase has been approved by the city council, a detailed business plan for the transfer will be drawn up. An announcement about the tender award will be made once the supply chain management process has been completed ‘if we are satisfied that there is a preferred service provider who will be able to meet the criteria ⸺ or scope of work ⸺ as set out in the tender document’.

Cape Town is run by the Democratic Alliance party.