Will Cape Town’s Central Line open in December? Mbalula says so…

But commuters are sceptical after many missed deadlines and devastation along the line

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Railway workers attend to overhead cables at Langa Station, watched by armed security guards. Photo: Tariro Washinyira

  • Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula insists that the Central Line will be fully reopened by December 2022.

  • But previous deadlines have been missed and commuters are sceptical after widespread theft and destruction of infrastructure on the line.

  • A part of the Central Line, from Cape Town station to Langa, and from Langa to Bellville, will be running, but only on weekdays.

Cape Town’s Central Line will be functional by December, Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula promised during an oversight visit on Tuesday.

Mbalula rode trains alongside the board and management of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) to show off a very partial return to service of Cape Town’s Central Line, between the city centre and Langa, and from Langa to Bellville.

“The deadline to move people encroaching the railway line is November and then from there we will see Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha back and running. I want this work to be completed between September and October and it is going to happen. We are very much on track. I don’t see why we can’t meet our deadlines. A lot of work is being done behind the scenes. This is a story of reconstruction and recovery,” he said during the press conference.

But commuters are sceptical that the Central Line will reopen by December.

Once the city’s busiest line, this line was closed in October 2019. Since then families have set up informal settlements on the track in Langa, Philippi and in Khayelitsha.

Deadlines have come and gone and promise after promise has been broken. On 15 January 2020, PRASA said that the line would be working again “within six months”. A week later, this deadline was extended – full service on the line would be ready by April 2021. But in March 2020, the full return of the line was pushed to May 2021, with partial service from September. However, at the end of August 2020, GroundUp was told that “there is no estimated date” for the line’s return.

In 2021, GroundUp reported extensively on the occupations that had taken place on the line, and the widespread theft and destruction of infrastructure.

In February 2022, the Western Cape Parliament was told that the new deadline for the line’s return was December 2022.

Once the relocation of people living in informal settlements on the rail lines is completed, apparently by the end of November (another deadline that has shifted repeatedly), PRASA’s infrastructure needs to be reinstalled and stations restored, effectively from scratch.

When GroundUp visited Bonteheuwel in May, the damage to the tracks was severe and infrastructure had been stolen. In Netreg, rail tracks had been completely removed.

No recovery work has begun in Mitchells Plain. Big trees have grown along the tracks, and overhead cables, tracks and sleepers have been stolen.

Essential equipment, such as signalling cables, overhead cables and train tracks, has been looted along two branches of the Central Line, to Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha, and many of the 33 stations all along the line are nearly in ruin.

During the Minister’s visit on Tuesday, the train was 15 minutes late departing from Cape Town to Langa. On the Langa to Bellville part of the trip, the train was stuck a few metres from Bellville station for half an hour due to “problems with signaling.”

Regional engineering manager Raymond Maseko explained that the train was late in the morning because of problems at Belhar station.

Maseko said of eight stations between Langa and Bellville, only two – Langa and Bellville – were fully operational.” Trains could stop at four other stations – Sarepta, Unibel, Pentech and Belhar – but not at Bonteheuwel or Lavistown, where platforms are being rebuilt and the station repaired. Maseko said that all eight stations would be working by the end of September, but only during weekdays.

“By the end of August we will bring additional security to increase visibility and guarantee a more reliable service,” said Western Cape regional manager Kaparo Molefi.

TOPICS:  Transport

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