The major recapitalisation programme in the pipeline at South African Rail Commuter Corporation (SARCC) subsidiary Metrorail “will be significant, and will involve nothing less than 5 000 new coaches over the next ten to 12 years”, says SARCC CEO Tshepo Lucky Montana.

“I don’t want to talk specific numbers until Cabinet has made an announcement.”

Minister of Transport Jeff Radebe earlier this year said in his budget speech that Metrorail has completed a multibillion-rand business case for a major Metrorail rolling stock overhaul, and that this proposal is currently being considered by cabinet.

“As soon as this programme gets the nod from government, we should be able to go out on tender,” notes Montana.

He expects Metrorail to publish requests for proposals during this financial year.

Montana adds that the final number of new coaches will depend on cabinet, but that SARCC “has, in principle, support from government”.

He adds that Metrorail is looking for “new, modern technology” which will assist it in achieving greater efficiency and safety rates.

“We must make a break with the current 1956 technology we are using.”

Should the recapitalisation programme be given the green light from cabinet, Metrorail will see a significant increase in capacity.

The commuter rail service provider currently has 4 600 coaches, of which only 3 500 are in service.

“If you look at the technology and the age of our current rolling sock, it is clear we have come to a point where we have to embark on a programme of replacing the entire fleet,” says Montana.

He adds that acting speedily is of the essence, as the lead-time for new rolling stock is around three years.

“If we don’t see the entry of new trains within the next three years, we might as well kiss our current turnaround strategy goodbye, because it won’t be sustainable.

“At that time (in three years), we’ll be taking more coaches out of service than we’ll be putting in. So it is very important that we move quickly.

“I think we’ve reached the point where there is no alternative but to acquire new rolling stock.”

In the short-term, around 2 000 Metrorail coaches are to be refurbished over the next three years.

Montana says Metrorail passenger volumes have been growing at 10% a year, but that capacity has not been keeping pace with this double-digit expansion.

“We have learned that the availability of trains and service delivery are inseparable,” says Montana, who has been in office as SARCC CEO for 25 months.

Metrorail is currently in its second year of a long-term turnaround plan, which has as its first phase an effort to stabilise service delivery, and to stop bleeding commuters to other forms of public transport.

This stabilisation phase is to be followed by recovery and growth phases.

“We are currently reaping the fruit of many years of under-investment,” says Montana.

Despite this, he notes that Metrorail has managed to surpass most of its first-year targets.

He says Metrorail targeted fare revenue to grow by 2%, but achieved 9%. Passenger trips have increased by 12%, while crime in the Metrorail systems has dropped by 33%.

Train cancellations have inched below 2%.

Metrorail was suppose to refurbish 500 coaches this past year, but fell eight short of this number, at 492.

Caption: REPLACEMENT PENDING These old coaches are to be replaced with new ones, should cabinet give the green light – See EN June 15, p 17, Engineering News, 2007.