No trains on Cape Town’s central line until September

PRASA says there has been further vandalism and damage to the infrastructure since the suspension of the central line. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Problems with public transport will continue to plague commuters from Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain this year.

Train commuters on the central line between Cape Town and Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain will have to wait until September for even a limited service to be restored. This emerged from a press briefing by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (PRASA) administrator, Bongisizwe Mpondo, in Khayelitsha on Thursday. The central line to the most populous areas in the province was suspended in the first week of November last year as a result of the theft of more than 730 metres of overhead catenary wire near Bonteheuwel.

Mpondo, who was appointed as an administrator by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula in December last year after the interim PRASA board was dissolved, said they have decided to revitalise the central line by upgrading the infrastructure and securing the line.

“We have come up with a recovery plan that will make sure that we secure the line and fix the infrastructure. The plan takes us to September and that is when we will have limited services and we anticipate full services in April 2021,” said Mpondo.

The PRASA administrator had earlier in the day engaged with a commuter forum from Khayelitsha and shared the plan with them. “The commuter forum raised frustrations around the pace of the recovery plan but this is not the first last time we will be engaging them,” he said.

The civil society coalition, #UniteBehind, which was represented at the commuter forum, complained about PRASA’s time frames. “September is quite a long way. It means for half a year commuters will be left without an option of using trains on the central line. Even the limited service is not guaranteed. If this was happening anywhere else in the world it would be treated as a national disaster. We therefore still call for the situation to be declared a national disaster,” said #UniteBehind spokesperson, Matthew Hirsch.

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Khayelitsha Development Forum, which was represented by its chairperson, Ndithini Tyhido, also complained that September is far off but they are going to work with the rail company to ensure that the process is sped up. Tyhido told Elitsha that they presented their own plans at the commuter forum which include a summit in February to find a way forward on the issues of public transport and safety in Khayelitsha. “We don’t want to take an opposition stance to PRASA’s plan but we want to be part of the process. We are planning to have a summit on the state of public transport and safety on the 27th of February. We don’t want a situation when September comes that there are not even a limited number of trains,” he said.

PRASA’s regional manager, Richard Walker, said that they estimate the recovery of the central line will cost over R1-billion rands. Costs are still likely to mount with further vandalism of the infrastructure reported since the line was suspended.

Meanwhile, it is not clear when MyCiti Bus services, which were suspended in May last year following a dispute between stakeholders, will resume in Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain.

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