Metrorail promises R233 million to upgrade its service

Mthuthuzeli Swartz discusses Metrorail’s plan to improve train services in the Western Cape.Photo by Mary-Anne Gontsana.

Mary-Anne Gontsana

25 March 2014

At a press conference today, 25 March 2014, Western Cape Provincial Metrorail regional manager Mthuthuzeli Swartz said the rail company is on the verge of an upgrade revolution.

Last week, GroundUp ran a story about commuter frustration regarding cancellations and delays of trains on the Khayelitsha line due to an infrastructure problem at Cape Town station. The inconvenience is not yet over.

A minor derailment of a train last week, engineering services manager Raymond Maseko said was caused by a rail wheel interaction which had gone wrong, causing the train to go off track.

Swartz was addressing the media at a press conference on 25 March about plans that were in place to improve train services for commuters. These included infrastructure interventions, upgrades and improvements to numerous stations, security, ticket verification, communication to commuters and rolling stock.

“When there is a problem at Cape Town station, it means that the entire train network will be affected, and when the entire network is affected, this then affects the whole of the Western Cape. Bellville and Cape Town stations currently have speed restrictions, while infrastructure is being done.”

“A very big problem we have is vandalism, for example at Nyanga station, next to the informal settlements, there is waste being dumped on the tracks. Waste, especially when it is wet, can be the cause of false signals because there are electric signals also on the tracks which work together with those on the gantry. So if the track gives false signals, this will also happen to the gantry signals,” explained Swartz.

Swartz said despite building walls and fencing around the railway in Nyanga, people still found a way to gain entry.

“We have to understand that a train network is like a road. If a road has potholes, you cannot drive on it. This is why a complete overhaul of track transformers should be replaced because they are all old. Sub-stations are about 30 to 45 years old. So we have reviewed our production plan and a lot of work on the tracks will be done during the evening when there is less commuter action,” he said.

Other infrastructure challenges that would be addressed were overhead traction equipment, wheels, cables, windows, and doors.

Many commuters have in the past complained about the safety of trains and security not being up to standard at stations. Metrorail plans to introduce a segment of operation which include visible security, joint operations with the South African Police Services, foot patrols, search and seizure operations.

“As Metrorail, we cannot take the law into our own hands. We need the SAPS to help us. At times you find that people will get on a train without having a ticket, if that person threatens the life of one of our Metrorail employees, there is nothing that person can do about it. I even sometimes encourage employees to run when faced with danger,” said Swartz.

Because of these types of situations, a ticket verification system will also be put in place where tickets will be checked at the gate and on trains. There will be particular focus on this on transfer stations like Mutual, Bellville and Langa.

National Station Upgrade Projects, which is a two year project (2015/2016), will include the upgrade of Nolungile station, Lentegeur, Philippi, Bonteheuwel and Mandalay. There will also be a shuttle service in the form of Shosholoza Meyl which will be provided for commuters travelling between Mbekweni and Kraaifontein.

Commuters will also get the chance to register to receive SMSes which will alert commuters when trains are delayed or cancelled. The service will be offered in different languages. A clockface timetable will also be introduced which means that there will be a train every 15 minutes or every 30 minutes.