South Africa

South Africa’s passenger rail collapse

South Africa’s passenger rail system has deteriorated over the past decade, as vandalism, theft, corruption, and a lack of maintenance have taken their toll on the country’s passenger rail infrastructure.

Daily Investor looked at South Africa’s rail passenger transport over the past 13 years, which revealed a severe decline in the service millions of commuters used to depend on.

In 2010, rail passengers completed over 500 million journeys. This number has since declined to just over 19 million journeys in 2022.

South Africa’s rail network is managed by the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) – in charge of Transnet – and the Department of Transport – in charge of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA).

Transnet is mainly responsible for freight rail. PRASA provides commuter rail services in metropolitan areas and long-distance (inter-city) rail and bus services within and to and from the country’s borders.

PRASA’s performance has declined rapidly over the past decade due to theft, vandalism, corruption and a lack of maintenance.

In 2011, the South African Institute for Civil Engineering (SAICE) scored South Africa’s passenger rail lines a C-, meaning it was “satisfactory for now”.

SAICE said operational inefficiencies exist at the utility, and passenger volumes are restricted by inadequate and failing rolling stock.

Theft and vandalism were highlighted as major concerns, and safety remains a significant issue.

Since then, PRASA’s performance has only deteriorated, and in 2022, SAICE lowered the rating to an E, meaning “unfit for purpose”.

SAICE said the general condition of the commuter rail network is very poor.

“Safety and security on the rail network have deteriorated, and fewer and fewer trains are dispatched each year due to infrastructure, process, and systems challenges.”

“Operational issues include outdated equipment, theft, arson, and vandalism. Many mainline passenger services have collapsed and are now almost non-existent.”

However, there is some hope for the utility’s turnaround.

In June of this year, PRASA announced that it had set a target of having almost 80% of its original 40 operational corridors functioning by March 2024, News24 reported.

Currently, PRASA is operating limited train services on 18 lines, while at the end of March 2022, it was running just five train services that transported around 15 million passengers. The utility aims to add another 5 million, totalling 20 million by next year.

There are currently eight operating lines in the Western Cape, six in Gauteng and four in KwaZulu-Natal.

The publication reported that PRASA plans to rebuild and revamp 33 train stations in 2023 and fence off some of its depots and maintenance yards in these areas.

Passenger rail performance

Below is an overview of South Africa’s passenger rail performance from 2010 to 2022:

Source: Stats SA
Source: Stats SA


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