The city of Cape Town says it will soon appoint a multi-disciplinary team of rail professionals to help it prepare to take over passenger rail in the metro.

Last week, transport minister Blade Nzimande confirmed the talks between the national government and the Cape Town metro. However, the main sticking point is the city’s ability to  fund the rail functions, given there is no guaranteed funding from the national department of transport.

In 2017, Cape Town announced it intended to take over the management of commuter rail to avert the “total collapse” of rail services in the city. Rail is considered the backbone of public transport in Cape Town.

The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) is responsible for delivering rail services. Its subsidiary, Metrorail, has been under pressure because its rail commuter services have been in a serious state of decline caused by decades of under-investment, outdated technology, the loss of critical skills, deferred maintenance, and corruption.​

On Tuesday, Cape Town’s MC for transport Felicity Purchase said taking over passenger rail from the national government will not happen overnight, but will be done in phases and over time.

A tender for the procurement of professional services to assist the city with the assignment of the urban rail function was recently advertised. The city received four tenders by the closing date for submissions on February 28, and has now entered the evaluation and assessment phase.

Purchase said the team of rail professionals, once appointed, will be tasked to develop a feasible and incremental plan for the city in taking over the urban rail function from Prasa. According to a business plan adopted by the city council in 2017, the metro should take over passenger rail in a “structured and incremental” manner.  This will allow the authorities to plan ahead, acquire the necessary skills, and to develop the additional capacity needed to ensure the long-term sustainability of the service.

“The assignment of the urban rail service will have long-term implications for residents and commuters. It will affect our long-term spatial planning and our local economy. It will, importantly, also have an impact on Prasa, being the rail operator, its divisions and personnel, and its service providers. Thus, whatever we do must be done with the utmost care and diligence, and must adhere to the highest professional standards,” said Purchase.

The multi-disciplinary team will have specialist skills and experience in railway operations and engineering, as well as in business re-engineering and development, track and structures, rolling stock, signaling, concessions, electrical systems and stations.

“We have stipulated in the tender that the preferred service provider will have to acquire the skills of professionals who have decades of experience in the urban rail environment,” said Purchase.

“The team must consist of a project leader; financial specialist or transport economist; legal specialist; and experts in railway asset management and urban rail network operations; rail signaling and systems; and railway safety and security.”

She said the multi-disciplinary team will assist the city in coming up with a detailed plan for a sustainable devolution of the urban rail functions, and that the city will make an announcement about the awarding of the tender once the supply chain management process has been concluded.