16 March 2023
After a long wait, commuters will at last be able to use a train from Nyanga to Cape Town on Monday, when the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) resumes service on part of the Central Line.
The new blue trains will run from Nyanga to Maitland and back, and commuters wishing to go to Cape Town will have to change trains at Maitland. The trains will stop at all stations on the way to Maitland except Netreg, where extensive damage to the station still has to be repaired.
A new blue train was tested on the route on Wednesday. GroundUp joined the train at Nyanga and watched as people living in houses greeted the train, taking pictures and running along beside the railway line.
Regional engineering manager Raymond Maseko told GroundUp that for now the train would not run all the way to Cape Town as final repairs were necessary to the line between Woodstock and Cape Town to prepare for the extra load.
“Once that section is fixed we will then be able to run all the trains all the way to Cape Town,” he said.
“After Nyanga the next line we are opening is the Northern Line, from Eerste River to Strand, and from Eerste River to Muldersvlei,” Maseko said. A limited service has been running between Eerste River and Bellville since January.
Except for a brief period, the Central line has been suspended since 2018 and completely closed since October 2019. This was the busiest line in Cape Town, serving the poorest communities, and used to serve Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain.
After the line was closed, families moved onto the tracks and informal settlements sprang up along the railway in Langa, Philippi and Khayelitsha. Then, during lockdown in 2020 and 2021, infrastructure was stolen or badly vandalised. Nothing much was left of Netreg train station which was stripped of its roof, windows and doors.
Minister Fikile Mbalula promised that the Central line would be fully operational by the end of 2022, but commuters were sceptical after the widespread theft and destruction of infrastructure and previous missed deadlines. In July, a partial service restarted on the Pinelands to Bellville line via Langa, Bonteheuwel and Belhar.
Maseko said tests on the Central Line had taken months. The line had been tested, using old yellow trains, before the new blue trains were allowed to run on the line. The final tests with the new blue trains were nearly complete.
“The new blue trains have got what we call electronic measurements. They are able to tell us how the train and the infrastructure interact and this is why these technical people you see inside the train are watching closely as the train is moving. When we go back to the office, we will download the data and check how the train and the infrastructure interact. If we have to do last minute adjustments, we will.”
“Today is the last day of the test. We have brought in the railway safety regulator to have a look at the rehabilitated network and rehabilitated stations. So we hope by Friday we get the go-ahead, so that on Monday trains can start operating.”
Commenting on the stations, Maseko said, “All these platforms at Nyanga station were severely vandalised. There was absolutely nothing. You see the amount of work we have put in. We are re-doing everything from scratch because during Covid-19 everything was destroyed.”
He said trains would not stop at Netreg because of serious damage to the station. “At Netreg there is structural damage. In other stations we had only damage such as lighting, water in toilets and copper pipes which we have been replacing. Netreg is a different story. We are fixing everything from scratch.”
Asked about the resettlement of the people living on PRASA land in Langa, Philippi and Khayelitsha, he said PRASA’s mandate was to run trains, and the Department of Human Settlements, the City of Cape Town and the Housing Development Agency were trying to secure land to relocate people occupying the track.
People living on the railway reserve in Langa were meant to have been relocated last year in November, but PRASA and the City have blamed each other for delays.