Major rail expansion on the cards for SA

The drafters of the white paper said the success of the Gautrain was proof that a regional rapid transit system covering longer routes at higher speeds was vital for the country. “It enables people to enter conurbations from outlying areas as urbanisation expands, to connect over fairly long distances with them, or to traverse them, without contributing to road congestion or becoming snarled up in it.” They propose an inter-region passenger rail service with trains running at speeds of between 160km/h to 200km/h, extending a few hundred kilometres.

The proposed routes would minimise the number of cars that travel on these routes on a regular basis. The white paper also proposes the department undertake feasibility studies into the introduction of a high-speed rail service over time. Such a service could shift both freight and passenger loads from air and road to rail by 2050; however, this would be a costly exercise as high-speed rail requires its own dedicated lines that cannot be shared with slower trains.

“High-speed rail operating at 300km/h or more requires dedicated infrastructure. The three-way connection between line capacity, track maintenance and crashworthiness is simply too great to contemplate low-speed traffic on high-speed routes.” It calls for more participation of third parties in both freight and passenger operations.

It noted that the Passenger Rail Service of SA (Prasa) was underfunded and unable to provide optimum service, hence the need to introduce third party operators on routes where it underperforms or where it does not operate a passenger service. It further calls for more competition on all freight lines where Transnet Freight Rail is battling to meet demand due to inadequate rolling stock, and theft and vandalism of its infrastructure. Transnet recently invited bids for 16 slots on the container corridor between City Deep and Durban, and the line between Tshwane and East London/Gqeberha to third party operators.

However, it has been criticised for making slots available for 24 months, a period deemed inadequate by a number of potential third party operators.