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Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga rejected plans by the City of Cape Town to take over the running of the city’s passenger rail service, saying the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) has no intention of devolving the railway services.

“For now we are not devolving railway services. That is why Prasa is busy building railway services in the Western Cape,” Chikunga said during an oversight visit and train ride from Bellville to Eerste River. 

Chikunga was assessing work done on the Bellville to Eerste River section of the Northern Line. In January a limited service resumed between Eerste River and Bellville after almost four years of no service. Regional engineering manager Raymond Maseko assured the minister that trains would also run to Strand and Stellenbosch by October.

Chikunga said all Prasa wanted from the city was to move commuters who switched to the Central Line rail reserves after the Northern Line closed in October 2019.

“That’s what we want from them, period,” she said. “The relocation and provision of houses is not Prasa’s mandate.”

The City of Cape Town has said that preliminary financial analysis indicated an efficient passenger service would save lower-income households R921m a year and sustain more than 51,000 jobs.

“Our analysis shows there is an urgent need for the national government to devolve Cape Town’s passenger rail for the city to run,” Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said last month. “We call on the President and Chikunga to ensure the immediate finalisation of the much-delayed National Rail Devolution Strategy so that the city can get the trains running in the interest of all residents.”

The provincial government is also in favour of shifting the responsibility for passenger rail. Western Cape minister of mobility Ricardo Mackenzie told GroundUp the National Rail Policy White Paper gazetted in May 2022 made the devolution of passenger rail services approved government policy.

“While the devolution of rail is likely to be a complex and challenging process, we fully support the policy,” he said.

“In the meantime, we cannot sit around and wait. I have made it clear that restoring rail services for our commuters is a top priority. We are working hard to support and intervene wherever possible to make sure that people can get to work and school with safe, reliable, affordable and sustainable mobility options.”

Joseph Mayson, the legal officer of civil society coalition #UniteBehind, said devolution was inevitable. “A national devolution plan is being developed by the Department of Transport, which it says will be complete in 2024.

“There has been progress on some lines in Cape Town and we welcome this. However, two-thirds of the Central Line is still out of service. Many trains are delayed and cancelled. Stations and the old, yellow trains are still unsafe. Prasa’s management and governance, on a national scale, is broken. Over the past decade, it has achieved an average of 21% of its own performance objectives. Last year, it achieved 12.5% of its objectives,” Mayson added.

“Devolution to the lowest level of government possible is required in terms of the constitution, legislation, and policy. It is best for local public transport, including trains, to be owned, managed and operated by the local government. As commuter rail in the Western Cape is almost exclusively within the City of Cape Town’s jurisdiction, we believe that Prasa’s commuter assets and operations should devolve to the City.”


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