Rail revamp long overdue: Ndebele
Cape Town - The modernisation and upgrade of South Africa's long-distance passenger and freight infrastructure is an urgent matter that cannot be delayed any longer, Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said on Tuesday.
"At the same time, as we build congestion-free highways in Gauteng, we are also engaging in a comprehensive rail upgrade that looks at placing rail at the centre of our freight and commuter movement," he told a media briefing at parliament in his capacity as chairperson of the infrastructure development cluster of ministries.
"It is rail, not private cars, that is the future of our public transport system," he said.
The Gautrain, which is to be completed in June 2011, was one significant new part that would ease commuter movement in Gauteng.
Rail required yet more investment in that province and elsewhere in the country "if we are to move cars and appropriate goods onto trains", he said.
The average age of the locomotive fleet, operated by Shosholoza Meyl on all routes nationally, was about 33 years.
Of Shosholoza Meyl's current locomotive stock of 124, about 65% (about 80 locomotives) should have been replaced by 2010 and a further 20% (about 26 locomotives) should be replaced by 2024 on account of age.
Of the passenger coach fleet, 8% (about 103) of the coaches would have to be replaced in 10 years' time and a further 14% (about 182) should be replaced in 15 years' time.
It was quite clear that infrastructure across the cluster required massive investment.
There were generally three sources of funding for transport infrastructure - the fiscus, private investment, and the user pay principle.
"As a country, we have accepted that to sustain investments we need a combination of the three," Ndebele said.
"Our initial estimate for the roads sector alone is R75bn just to deal with the maintenance backlog; for commuter rail services R93bn; Shosholoza Meyl requires investment ranging from R260bn to R300bn. These are staggering figures by all standards."
Some countries including France, Germany, China, the United States, Canada and South Korea were ready to finance South Africa's rail expansion.
"Our ultimate goal is to have an appropriate modal split across modes - commuters moving mainly through rail, appropriate goods on rail and road and using our maritime and aviation transport to move people and goods without stressing one mode through inappropriate cargo or congestion.
"Over the next six months, starting with the roads conference in Durban in March to our international investors' conference in June, we will be engaging broadly to find financing options for our projects.
"We must ensure that the projects are funded through an equitable split between private users and funders," Ndebele said.