SA’s long-distance trains are going downhill fast, says Fikile Mbalula

Mainline trains will return to service between November 27 and December 4, says transport minister Fikila Mbalula.
Image: Andre Jurgens

The parlous state of SA’s long-distance railways has been laid bare by transport minister Fikile Mbalula.

Replying in writing on Tuesday to a question from DA MP Manny de Freitas, Mbalula said the number of trains running, passengers and punctuality all plummeted in the last two years.

However, he said 103 coaches received “upgrades in passenger safety comfort system”.

De Freitas asked Mbalula about progress in the rail tourism sector over the past three years, and the minister said tourists used seven rail routes. These ran between Johannesburg and Cape Town, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Musina and Komatipoort; and between Cape Town and Queenstown/East London.

The number of trains that ran on these routes plummeted to 931 in 2019/20 from 1,837 in 2018/19 and 1,777 the previous year. The latest total was just 70% of the planned services.

Tourists who used the routes more than halved from 83,273 in 2017/18 to 37,490 in 2019/20. On-time performance was just 9% in 2019/2020, down from 20% two years earlier.

No infrastructure had been developed in the past three years, Mbalula said. The only upgrading that had been done was at Kroonstad station in the Free State, where the platform was tarred and the toilets and waiting rooms renovated.

Mainline trains stopped operating during the lockdown, and Mbalula said they would start running again from November 27, with all routes operating by December 4.

Covid-19 precautions meant no catering or bedding services would be provided on the trains. Every train would have an isolation coach, he said, and masks would be compulsory.



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