Commuters need rail services back on track

Gerald Brown, from the Mitchell’s Plain Unemployed Residents and Local Building Contractors Forum, said he would like people to be trained and equipped.

The Central line train corridor needs fixing and services to be restored.

With trains the cheapest mode of transport for communities, the fact that it is not running is impacting negatively on productivity and getting commuters to work on time and safely, said Michael Jacobs, the vice-chairperson of the Mitchell’s Plain United Ratepayers’ Association (MURA).

Almost 45% of workers’ earnings are now spent on alternative transport which has become unaffordable for your average wage earner, he said.

The ultimate aim should be to ensure that the trains start running again and to get all stakeholders, including civil society and different government spheres and departments, to work together for the benefit of communities, said Mr Jacobs.

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) is facing problems of wholesale vandalism of all its infrastructure along the Central line with illegal settlements close to or on train tracks in Langa and Philippi stations.

Prasa was granted a court interdict on July 28 2021, allowing them to evict the Langa illegal settlers specifically.

Prasa has opted to negotiate with the illegal settlers and there has been an agreement with both the Langa and the Philippi settlers to move their informal structures to alternative land. However, the securing of land has resulted in delays as the deadline to move the illegal settlers was November 26 last year.

Nana Zenani, acting spokesperson for Metrorail Western Cape, addressing a meeting on Thursday February 10 at the Mitchell’s Plain’s SAPS station boardroom.

Nana Zenani, acting spokesperson for Metrorail Western Cape, said at a meeting on Thursday February 10 at the Mitchell’s Plain’s SAPS station boardroom, that the works to restore the Central line would be broken down into two phases in light of the illegal settlements on the tracks in Philippi, which hamper the complete restoration of the Central line until the people have been moved to alternative land.

Phase 1 will commence at the following 11 stations: Langa, Bonteheuwel, Lavistown, Belhar, Unibell, Pentech, Sarepta, Bellville, Netreg, Heideveld and Nyanga.

“We can’t get to Mitchell’s Plain, Kapteinsklip and Lentegeur lines, as yet, to name a few – there is a stretch of rail where people are living on in Philippi. Those structures need to be moved to an alternative location. Once the structures are removed, they will be able to fix the rail line,” she said.

Originally the new trains were ordered for the Western Cape from the original inception of the project in 2014. “That was always the understanding that the Central line would be prioritised to operate the new trains in the Western Cape. The dream has to be deferred to another time due to the vast extend of the vandalism,” said Ms Zenani.

“We know that we haven’t been the model of service delivery that people want. We are a transport company and cannot give land away. Families on the Central line must be moved,” said Ms Zenani.

The Central line recovery will include seven key projects which are a walling programme, a resignaling project, station rehabilitation, sub-station rehabilitation, the rehabilitation of overhead lines, perway (permanent way) rehabilitation and the removal of illegal settlers on the rail tracks for Langa and Philippi.

The erection of the wall will be done at strategic places in consultation with communities and will consider the issue of accessibility for disabled people.

Ms Zenani said in the Western Cape the criminals are winning when stakeholders don’t stand together and Metrorail services are affected as a result of crime. She said criminals have moved their operations to vandalising their system and Covid-19 has exacerbated this.

Prasa is aiming to complete the construction of phase 1 by the end of July, followed by the testing of the line as per the Rail Safety Regulator protocols.

“We have to talk and engage with each other as a community coming together for the greater good,” said Ms Zenani.

Mr Jacobs said it is critical to get the rail system back on track.

“We had a project with various stakeholders called Re-imagining Mitchell’s Plain (”Plan to get ‘Plain to take off“, Plainsman, November 21, 2018) and part of that was the transport – looking at how we can keep it going. We can all complain but we need a project steering committee with various stakeholders,” he said.

Councillors and the City of Cape Town have to be on board as the issue affecting everybody, he said. “They cannot be excluded. Those living on the railway line; we are working to get them moved off the railway line and relocated. We need to be practical and look forward,” he said

With regards to sub-contracting with those in the Mitchell’s Plain precinct for the rail overhaul, Mr Jacobs said the 30% procurement rate should be negotiated to 50%. “In terms of skills training, we need to look at bursaries made available from Prasa so that our young people can be trained to be engineers, among others,” said Mr Jacobs.

Gerald Brown from the Mitchell’s Plain Unemployed Residents and Building Contractors Forum, said he would like people to be trained and equipped to work with these services. “For those living in poverty, this will reduce unemployment and crime in the area,” he said.

Referring to the 30% procurement rate, Charles Meyer, from Mura, said people need jobs in the community. “We cannot let this percentage decrease, this will affect us,” he said.

Mr Meyer also said it is not fair that people have to walk miles to get home. “In our heyday we had running trains.”

Shakes Mahlaba, from Mandalay Anchors, a crime and community development non-profit organisation, said at the meeting that crime most times is committed by the youth. “I have engaged with my community. They have shared with me that the youth are struggling with employment. I have taken them under my wing and they are volunteering to patrol the area, keeping those in danger safe.”

Linda Jones, also from Mura, said she has never seen people living along the railway lines in her lifetime.

“I am disappointed in our government for allowing the situation to get so dire. Years ago when people occupied Kapteinsklip railway, they were removed. Let’s start the talk on training and connecting with business, stakeholders and the broader community. We are a reflection of what is happening in our homes,” said Ms Jones.