Cape Town plans to take over rail system : Read the details and information

Updates : March 2019

The City of Cape Town have formally announced that they intend to request that the National Department of Transport (DoT) expedite the assignment of the urban rail function to the City, pending Council’s approval by the end of  October 2017. The City of Cape Town first announced that it would welcome the taking-over of the rail function in 2012, when the then Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele announced the intention to transfer control over Metrorail’s passenger rail services, from the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) to the City.

As reported in 2011 the National Government is seeking, in terms of the National Land Transport Act No.5 of 2009, to devolve responsibility for all modes of public transport to metropolitan transport authorities. It was then noted that the devolution of oversight for public transport will assist the City in improving the alignment of road-based and rail transport according to local needs. Furthermore the City, as the transport authority, will act as a regulator and will be responsible for overseeing, monitoring and holding the rail operator accountable for the quality of service.

Statistics : How Cape Town’s rail system is “falling apart”

Passenger rail numbers in Cape Town have fallen by 30% from 2015/16 to 2016/17. According to data received from Metrorail, there were on average 2,7 million fewer rail journeys in Cape Town per month in 2016/17 when compared with 2015/16.

  • Punctuality : 4 out of every 10 trains (43%) are on time when the international norm is 80%
  • Safety : 26% of the complaints registered with the Transport Information Centre relate to inadequate security
  • Cancellation : At least 1 out of every 10 trains (11%) is cancelled on a daily basis
  • Train sets : By April 2017, Metrorail was short of 20 train sets – the service was operating on 68 sets as opposed to the 88 train sets required to run an efficient service

Passenger rail is the backbone of public transport in Cape Town. More than half of all commuter journeys – that is 54% – are made by train. However, Metrorail’s data confirms that thousands of commuters have been displaced to road-based transport – be it private vehicles, minibus-taxis or buses – over the past two years.

“We are facing a real risk that passenger rail in Cape Town could effectively collapse before the DoT’s National Rail Policy (draft White Paper) of June 2017 is finalised to devolve the management of passenger rail to municipalities. This could take another two to three years.The City cannot sit back and wait for the National Government to intervene” says Brett Herron.

“The consequences of a complete breakdown would be catastrophic for the city, for residents, and commuters who are already subjected to constant peak-hour grid-lock on the congested road network. This comes at a great cost in terms of the time spent on travelling, household expenditure on transport, environmental degradation due to carbon emissions, and the subsequent impact on our productivity and Cape Town’s economy”.

Read about the The new trains for South African cities

The business plan to take over rail

With Council approval, the City will present a business plan to the DoT in which it will propose to take over passenger rail in a “structured and incremental manner”. “The take-over must happen gradually so that the City can plan ahead, acquire the necessary skills, and develop the additional capacity to ensure the long-term sustainability of passenger rail”.

The business plan for the assignment of the urban rail function will include report setting out “a detailed analysis of the risks involved and the measures in mitigating these”. The business plan sets out the City’s assignment methodology. The City have divided the urban rail system into 16 key functional components, including the train operations, signalling, stations, ticketing, transport enforcement, and rolling stock. First Implementation steps have been identified for each component:

  1. Transport Planning:
    TDA to expedite a process for the development of the six rail service corridor plans. Council recommended to request that authorisation be given to TDA by DoT so that it can commence this work immediately
  2. Network:
    • TDA to draw up comprehensive maintenance contracts between the City, and PRASA and Transnet respectively
    • TDA to detail, analyse and assess the assets in each of the six identified rail service corridor plans
  3. Operations:
    TDA to develop a standardised, performance based train operations contract for each of the identified corridors in accordance with their respective rail service corridor plans
  4. Signalling:
    TDA to be given access to the signaling contracts under an appropriate authorisation and to assess PRASA’s modernisation programme
  5. Stations:
    • TDA to develop maintenance standards and related operating procedures for stations
    • TDA to develop a costed asset register, an asset condition assessment and a maintenance and refurbishment programme
  6. Land investment:
    • TDA to undertake and verify the land inventory
    • TDA to commence immediately the process to amend the Municipal Planning By-law
  7. Ticketing, fares and revenue management:
    • TDA to continue to develop and implement the integrated ticket for scheduled public transport, including rail
    • TDA to carry out an assessment of the status quo regarding advertising on all stations and throughout the network, as well as the potential for additional advertising opportunities
  8. Transport enforcement
  9. Rolling stock:
    TDA to be authorised to undertake an assessment of the rolling stock and develop an upgrading and maintenance regime that can be actioned on assignment
  10. Universal access:
    • Upon assignment, the City to determine the status quo of universal access of all urban rail facilities, as well as establish the funding requirements to bring these facilities up to acceptable standards
    • Upon assignment, the City to extend its Universal Access Policy (and universal access design plans) to include urban rail on the assumption that it will receive government funding for this purpose
  11. Regulations:
    Following approval of this Business Plan, TDA to commence the consultation process with the Railway Safety Regulator
  12. Human resources:
    TDA, through appropriate authorisation, to access the basic employee database, together with the conditions of employment, so that it can commence compiling the necessary HR Plan, Training Plan and Change Management Plan
  13. Change management:
    Upon assignment, TDA to:
    • commence with internal change management as the section 197 process is rolled out; and
    • in accordance with its community profiling, undertake a change management process for all affected stakeholders
  14. Marketing and communications:
    In preparation for assignment, TDA to draft and cost the rail related components of the Cl Manual
  15. Investment opportunities:
    Upon approval of this Business Plan, TDA to explore alternative rail solutions and commence feasibility studies for the Business Express and its possible funding sources
  16. Financial management:
    TDA to unpack and itemise all identified sums required to fund the assignment

The reports will serve before the Mayoral Committee for recommendation next week, and will be submitted to full Council for approval on 26 October 2017.

Way forward

The City of Cape Town through the Transport and Urban Development Authority will pending Council approval take the following immediate actions :

  1. MOU with PRASA : Intensify the City of Cape Town memorandum of action with PRASA with the intention of stabilising passenger rail and preventing the further decline of the rail service in Cape Town. According to the City it must be “allowed to access the local operational and financial data so that we can identify the functionalities where intervention is to be prioritised, get a better understanding of the current strategic and operational risks, and determine the full scope and cost of the assignment of the urban rail function”.
  2. Application to the Department of Transport : Submit an application to the DoT and National Treasury for the assignment of urban rail to the City
  3. Engage with the DoT and National Treasury : Engage about the approach to the allocation of subsidies for urban rail and commence with a detailed exploration and investigation of the feasibility of alternative rail solutions such as light rail, skyrail, monorail, and urban cable car. (Alternative rail solutions could be implemented as part of the City’s comprehensive integrated transport plan or in areas where they could be more economically viable than other modes of public transport – in  particular in those areas that are currently not served by passenger rail and the MyCiTi bus service)

Read more :

  1. Cape Town unveils 2032 transport plan
  2. The new trains for South African cities
  3. Cape Town deserves a reliable and predictable train service