Cape Town Central Line to return to service in December, says PRASA

Western Cape Parliament told PRASA is stabilising

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Photo of a train

On Wednesday, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa updated the Western Cape legislature on its plans to reverse its decline in service. Archive photo: Brent Meersman

  • The Cape Town Central Line will be fully operational in December, claims PRASA.
  • Since June 2019, there has been a 65% reduction in train trips in Cape Town.
  • Land deals are being finalised for relocating people living on the tracks at Langa.
  • PRASA intends building a number of developments, including large social housing projects.

On Wednesday, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) reported on its rail services in the Western Cape to the Western Cape Provincial Parliament Standing Committee on Transport and Public Works.

The Central Line, which extends from Cape Town Station to Kapteinsklip in Mitchells Plain and to Chris Hani Station in Khayelitsha, will only be operating in December 2022, according to PRASA’s plans. PRASA intends to open sections of the Central Line, without signalling, between March and July this year. The line has been closed since October 2019.

While the plan to restore Cape Town’s Central Line was the focus of the meeting, PRASA also unveiled seven property developments, including large social and affordable housing projects on land alongside its rails.

PRASA Acting Group CEO David Mphelo led the delegation, alongside acting regional manager of PRASA Western Cape Kaparo Molefi.

Moleme took the members through figures that appear to show a stabilising, though much-diminished, rail service.

In June 2019, PRASA – already in decline – was operating 444 train trips on a weekday in Cape Town. In 2020, before the pandemic, this had dropped to 270 trains. Today, there are 153 train trips across the city on a weekday.

Molefi said that PRASA’s target was to exceed the June 2019 trip figures by the end of this year.

Over a three-month period from November 2021 to January 2022, PRASA has reduced cancelled trains on the Southern Line. Between Cape Town Station and Langa, cancellations dropped to 3%. However, this line operated just four rides per day.

Cancelled trips rose on the Northern Line in December before falling in January.

Delays on the Southern Line (defined as a train arriving more than five minutes after schedule), showed a steady improvement.

Molefi said that delays on the Northern Line were largely due to vandalism and theft of infrastructure, particularly signalling cables. Signalling repairs on the track between Cape Town station and Woodstock should further reduce delays.

Northern Line performance between November 2021 and January 2022 presented by PRASA

Only six of Cape Town’s ten lines are operating, and some of the working lines only operate single-train shuttle services during peak hours.

The line between Bellville and Strand is set to return by October, and the line to Muldersdrift set to return by January 2023.

The major stretches of the Central Line, from Philippi to Mitchells Plain and to Khayelitsha, will only be operating by 30 December, according to PRASA.

Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula and PRASA Chairperson Leonard Ramatlakane have both previously said that the Central Line would be operating by the end of July 2022.

PRASA now has a four-part plan to return the Central Line to full service. By the second week of March, trains will be travelling between Pinelands and Langa, albeit without signalling. Trains will travel on the line between Bellville and Goodwood by 7 March, also without signalling. Moleme said that trains will run between Langa (where there is currently a 10,000-person informal settlement on the lines) and Nyanga by the end of July. “With or without the settlement, we’ll be running trains,” said Molefi.

Molefi went into some detail about the difficult process of relocating people living on the rail tracks at Langa. The latest development was that an implementation protocol was being signed by local, provincial, and national governments, as well as parastatals that defines the roles and responsibilities for the relocation process.

After some proposed parcels of land were rejected by the community, five parcels of land have been identified in Philippi. Negotiations have been concluded with private land owners for three of these parcels. Moleme said that negotiations for the final two parcels will be completed this week. Funding will be provided by the national department of human settlements.

Mphelo revealed that the long-touted containment wall that was to span the length of the Central Line had been shelved. The wall was projected to cost R4-billion but would have served as a tangible deterrent to would-be thieves and vandals. Instead, Mphelo said, PRASA was focusing effort and money on protecting ‘critical’ infrastructure, like train stations and electricity substations.

Standing committee member Andricus van der Westhuizen questioned this change in plans. He pointed out that in the Northern Line, new infrastructure was often stolen within days of its installation.

Property developments

PRASA detailed an extensive property development plan, encompassing seven developments across the city, using land owned by the rail agency.

The Cape Town station development will include a four-star hotel, and residential space of 3,400 beds for students, to be completed in November 2023.

In Goodwood, the building of 1,080 units of social housing is to begin from 1 April.

In Diep River, 200 units of affordable housing would be built from March.

In Woodstock, two residential developments of 168 units and 247 units each were planned.

In Goodwood, 936 units were planned. PRASA is also intending to build an industrial park in Salt River.

PRASA was advertising tenders to build student accommodation in the northern suburbs for students of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and the University of the Western Cape.

Some committee members were concerned that PRASA’s focus appeared drawn away from its central mandate of providing commuter rail services with this push to build new developments.

Mphelo said that in PRASA’s experience, where they have active properties close to the rail reserve, communities tend to protect infrastructure. “The more we develop, the more we protect infrastructure,” he said.

Correction on 2022-02-24 18:28

We incorrectly identified the acting regional manager of PRASA Western Cape as Kagiso Molemo, instead of Kaparo Molefi

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