Will Metrorail users have to wait 17 years for decent service?

Service is getting worse, but Prasa promises to get it working … by 2034

Photo of people walking on railway tracks

Commuters abandon a Metrorail train and walk to Maitland train station, crisscrossing the railway tracks for about half a kilometre. Photo: Bernard Chiguvare

By Thembela Ntongana, Bernard Chiguvare and GroundUp Staff

22 February 2017

On Saturday, a 7am train from Nyanga Junction to Cape Town stopped between Ndabeni and Maitland train stations. After a quarter of an hour, commuters jumped out and walked to Maitland train station, crisscrossing the railway tracks for about half a kilometre.

On Monday morning, commuters faced at least a 20 minute delay from Fish Hoek. There was no announcement as to whether or not the 8:22am train was cancelled. A Metrorail worker said the train would leave at 8:30am. (There is meant to be an 8:31 train and an 8:49 train as well).

A few minutes after leaving Fish Hoek, the train stood for a further three minutes just outside the station. It stopped again three more times before reaching Rondebosch station, 15 minutes late, before continuing to Cape Town.

These are everyday experiences on the trains. It just so happens that the authors of this article experienced these particular ones first-hand. Cancellations, delays, overcrowding and criminal activity are a daily problem faced by Metrorail commuters. On particularly bad days, delays can be as long as four hours. (There are also much more severe events like the collision of two trains that injured over 200 people in Johannesburg on Monday.)

Metrorail has explanations for this. In March 2014, the Western Cape Metrorail regional manager at the time, Mthuthuzeli Swartz, said that the National Station Upgrade Projects in 2015/2016, would include the upgrade of Nolungile station, Lentegeur, Philippi, Bonteheuwel and Mandalay. Since that time, Lucky Montana, the CEO of the Passenger Rail Association of South Africa (Prasa), the parastatal of which Metrorail is a division, has been fired. His successor, Collins Letsoalo, denied that Metrorail was in distress, and promised to implement a turnaround strategy by October 2016.

In an interview published in February 2016, Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott told GroundUp:

On Tuesday, a year later, Scott told GroundUp:

Meanwhile, construction of the Philippi station is still at a standstill. Temporary containers are being used as the station in the meanwhile.

“The journey of putting the Prasa turn-around strategy is well in place,” Prasa’s Senior Marketing and Communication Manager Lillian Mofokeng said on Tuesday when asked for an update on the 2034 plan.