PRASA has failed to fix East Rand train stations

From Boksburg to Springs, stations remain in ruins

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At the Boksburg station thieves have stripped cables, roofing materials, doors and windows. Some parts of the railway line have also been removed. The place is deserted except for security officers who have set up an office in one of the old buildings. Photos: Kimberly Mutandiro

In 2021, GroundUp reported how PRASA had left the East Rand rail line and its train stations to fall into ruin. Some stations, like Boksburg and the once charming and vibrant Benoni train station, have been reduced to rubble. Stations at Springs, Pollak Park, New Era and Brakpan were in a similar state. We returned three years later. If anything, it is worse.

Brian Tlapane sells fruit, sweets and snacks at the defunct Benoni station. His business thrived when there were trains.

Brian Tlapane, an informal trader who sells sweets and snacks at Benoni train station in Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, has waited in vain for trains to start running again. His few customers now come from nearby flats and a hospital, or are passersby.

Other traders deserted the station when it closed during the Covid lockdown. But Tlapane remained hopeful, even as his daily sales dwindled, as he watched thieves and youngsters high on nyaope strip cables, remove steel from the railway line, steal roofing sheets and doors, chisel off tiles, take the toilet seats, and make off with anything they could lay their hands on.

The taxi rank has moved; we were told because of a taxi war in January. But a few taxi drivers still bring their vehicles to be washed by a man who lives nearby. They also buy some food from the few remaining vendors.

The once vibrant Benoni train station has been reduced to rubble.

Tlapane had heard that PRASA will revive the line but is left wondering why nothing has happened.

In 2021, PRASA told GroundUp it would restore all the stations on this line from Springs to Dunswart by March 2023. PRASA even gave us cost estimates for the repairs to the various stations. But three years later, the trains are not running and the vandalism and decay continues.

Brakpan station has been gutted by thieves. PRASA security guards refused to let us photograph the ruined interior.

At the Brakpan Station, there are security guards but they do not seem to be able to stop the deterioration and continued vandalism.

Nthabu Ramotala, contracted by Ekurhuleni as caretaker since 2010, said he cannot wait for order to be restored and the vandalism to stop. He said nyaope users make his workday difficult, and homeless people shelter at the station at night.

“The railway line has been stripped in some areas, and in some places, even if it’s still there, bolts and nuts have been removed,” he said.

There is a taxi rank nearby and some vendors, mostly women, sell cooked food to the drivers and their customers. They too have seen a dramatic drop in business because the trains don’t run.

Celina Mahlangu, who has been trading for 30 years, said thieves have stolen the taps and water pipes she used to get water to cook.

“No one ever cared about us, who have lost livelihoods due to the broken train system,” she said.

“No one seems to be giving us the right answers about when trains will start running again,” said Mavis Mhlungu. She said her kitchen at the station used to be full of commuters.

New Era station looks much the same as it did three years ago.

New Era station had security guards at the entrance and it appeared to be in the same sorry state we found it in three years ago.

We spoke to Memory Mpomba, who used to catch the train here to Johannesburg to buy snacks and clothing accessories she sells on the streets. She used to pay R14 for a return trip to fetch her stock. She now pays taxis R50. She is often without stock as she hasn’t got the money to get to the city.

Dunswart station was the least damaged of the stations we visited.

Dunswart station was relatively intact, except for roofing material which had been ripped away.

“I would give anything for trains to start running and for my vegetable market to start booming again,” said Anna Maluleke, who still sells produce at the station.

We found trains at Springs Station, which is still intact. But the place is even filthier than it was and it is stained with urine.

Jonathan Sydney, who ran a tuckshop at the station for more than ten years, said, “Some of us remain here at the station out of hope. If trains start running again, it will be a dream come true because my sales will go up again and I will be able to look after my family.”

We saw no security guards at Pollack Station. Homeless people shelter here at night, but during the day it is deserted. We saw broken cables lying around.

Andiswa Makhanda, PRASA spokesperson, said the line has been “earmarked for recovery”. Work on the Boksburg to Springs (including Benoni) will commence once the Boksburg bridge has been rebuilt and completed.

“PRASA has an integrated security strategy that is rolled out at all the corridors recovered; the Benoni line will be no different. Since implementing the integrated security plan, we have seen a reduction in theft and vandalism of restored assets.”

“The recovery of the corridors comes from the capital budget allocation from National Department of Transport that is ring-fenced for capital projects.”

“R7-million has been set aside for the refurbishment of the Benoni Station to basic functionality. The project is currently at the design stage and is expected to be completed by the end of October 2024.”

Update on 2024-05-17 14:03

The article has been updated with a response from PRASA

TOPICS:  Prasa / Metrorail Transport

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