Waiting for the scrapheap: hundreds of Shosholoza Meyl’s rusted carriages to be scrapped and sold

Most of PRASA’s long-distance train carriages “obsolete”

By Ezekiel Kekana

3 November 2022

Shosholoza Meyl carriages left to rust at Pretoria’s Bosman Street station. Photo: Ezekiel Kekana

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) says 396 Shosholoza Meyl carriages, most of its fleet, are “obsolete” and will soon be scrapped or sold.

At Pretoria’s Bosman Street station alone, there are 155 carriages rusting on the sidings, some for over a decade according to satellite photos.

PRASA told GroundUp that there are “over 600 carriages” for Shosholoza Meyl trains across the country.

295 coaches “will undergo general overhaul” over the course of the next five years, and 22 coaches will be refurbished in the current financial year - the rest will be sent to the scrapyard. PRASA said that the Bosman Street station carriages were among the 295 carriages nationally that would be scrapped and sold.

Shosholoza Meyl, which handles PRASA’s long distance train services, has had its trains out of service in Gauteng and the Western Cape yards since February 2020, when it was shut down on the Railway Safety Regulator’s instructions after a fatal crash outside Johannesburg.

It has only recently resumed limited operations on two routes - Johannesburg to East London, and Johannesburg to Musina in Limpopo province.

GroundUp visited the carriages at Pretoria Bosman station. The doors and some of the windows of the carriages have been vandalized and missing. The upper parts of the carriages are covered in rust.

The obsolete carriages take up most of the space in the yard’s staging area. Many of the carriages have been pillaged for parts by thieves.

But these rusting hulks should soon leave their purgatory at the station sidings.

PRASA’s spokesperson Andiswa Makanda told GroundUp that the rail agency “has approved a retirement strategy for 2022/23 and a scrapping contract has been awarded that will assist in the disposal of obsolete assets”.

Makanda said that PRASA could not share their scrapping strategy because it is an “internal document”, but confirmed that it is “currently in implementation”. She said that a company would be appointed “to assist with scrapping in a very safe manner and so our yards allow for storage.” She did not say when it would start.

PRASA says the lifespan of its train carriages is about 40 years, with each carriage undergoing a general maintenance overhaul after each “nine to ten years”.

However, the state-owned rail agency admitted that “majority of our fleet will undergo heavy maintenance general-overhaul while some of our coaches are obsolete in terms of the technologies fitted on them.”

We have previously reported on how railway infrastructure has been vandalized during the lockdown of 2020 which has disrupted many of PRASA’s operations including the local-to-local trains operation.

Makanda said PRASA intends to continue operating the Shosholoza Meyl service as it forms part of “PRASA’s primary mandate”. The service would “progressively resume” operations as infrastructure improves, but Makanda did not provide further details.

“Shololoza is currently experiencing delays as a result of the vandalized infrastructure. The railway infrastructure rebuilding process is currently underway from both PRASA and Transnet Freight Rail,” she said.