City of Cape Town’s Business Plan to Fix Urban Rail

All aboard!

Why fixing Cape Town’s rail network is an economic, moral and practical necessity

The state of Cape Town’s rail network

For the past two decades, Cape Town’s rail network has continued to decline until now seven out of ten trains are late and another is cancelled completely. The stress and anxiety of the morning commute is seriously impacting people’s lives, with the fear of being robbed or assaulted worsened by the risk of losing a job when arriving late for work.

Why a functioning rail network is a non-negotiable

Safe, fast and reliable public transport is the backbone of a city’s economy, and a functioning rail network is fundamental component. It provides access for employees to their jobs, consumers to shops, businesses to clients. A functioning rail network is essential in ensuring a city is accessible for all. And in Cape Town, where the spatial legacy of apartheid separates the poor from economic opportunity, it is more important than ever.

What can be done to fix it?

It is imperative that all sectors of society get onboard to save Cape Town’s rail network. Business and civil society need to work together to establish a common agenda and collectively hold the public sector to account for the delivery of a better service.

City of Cape Town’s Business Plan for the Assignment of Urban Rail

In October 2017, the City of Cape Town stated its intention to take over the assignment of the urban rail function in the city. The report that was put forward to Council highlighted the urgency with which the transition of responsibilities for rail should be transferred to the City.

In order for business and civil society to better understand the sometimes complex world of rail network planning and operation, this article provides a summary of key components of the TDA’s Business Plan for the Assignment of Urban Rail here  that was attached to its October 2017 Council Report.

The Business Plan outlines the 16 key functional components of urban rail that need to be addressed in order to transform the network into an integrated system owned by the City of Cape Town. This article summarises the 16 components and suggests potential opportunities for the private sector to influence change.

Function Component 1: Transport Planning

Proposes the development of six service plans for each of the six rail corridors in Cape Town:

  • Central Line
  • Cape Flats Line
  • Southern Suburbs Line
  • Northern Line (Bellville, via Mutual, via Monte Vista)
  • Northern Line (Somerset West & Strand, via Kuils River)
  • Blue Downs Rail Link Line

These plans will become the blueprint for the ongoing development of the network. Development of the plans will include analysis and proposed responses to the fundamental components of a successful rail network, such as demand, supply, quantity and quality of rolling stock, and the state and condition of the rail infrastructure, including stations and signalling systems. The six plans will be supported by contractual commitments from various operators.

Potential Opportunities for corporates/private sector :

  • Various transport companies/operators existing and new (e.g. companies formed to operate MyCiTi) would be able to compete for contracts on various lines
Functional Component 2: Network

The City puts forward an international best practice model for the municipality to own the entire rail network with private operators running services. This will require the City to assess the viability and risk of taking ownership of the network and address potential issues with Transnet’s ownership of national strategic heavy freight rail infrastructure and the Shosholoza Meyl’s access rights to Cape Town station and the mainline to Bellville and onwards.

Potential Opportunities for corporates/private sector :

  • Establishment or development of long distance and intercity services
  • Businesses engaging directly with the city to prioritise freight on rail to relieve traffic congestion
Functional Component 3: Train operations

States the need to establish standardised operating and performance standards and targets across all corridors that must be met by contracted operators. The City will be entitled to enforce penalties or offer incentives determined by performance. The City also proposes to develop an Urban Rail Passenger Charter.
It is imperative that the development of this Charter includes input from rail passengers. Rail passengers must be given a voice for providing direct feedback to TDA and rail operators on the standard of the service.

Functional Component 4: Signalling

 The City will own, maintain and operate the signalling system and has addressed the need for technological innovation to counter theft and vandalism. This could be done through in-cab signalling that minimises the need for copper wiring along rail lines.

Potential Opportunities for corporates/private sector :

  • Start-ups and established companies pushing technological innovation to develop new approaches to signalling and security infrastructure.
Functional Component 5: Stations

Ownership of all stations and surrounding land will be transferred to the City. There is a need to address a number of aspects of the stations including ticketing, access control infrastructure, security and ongoing maintenance standards.

Potential Opportunities for corporates/private sector :

  • Major opportunity for high density mixed-use developments around key nodes and various parts of the city.
  • Opportunities for TDA to work with the corporate sector and other significant land or property owners to develop an ‘adopt-a-station’ approach, where the management of a station and surrounding precinct could be integrated.
  • Increased advertising opportunities at stations.
Functional Component 6: Land investment

This is a technical planning component to implement the modification of two land use zones in order to enable Transit Oriented Development around stations.

Potential Opportunities for corporates/private sector :

  • As above, significant opportunity for the development of land around rail stations.
Functional Component 7: Ticketing, fares and revenue management

An integrated ticketing system across modes is an important element of the passenger’s experience of a public transport system. The City proposes a smartphone based system that can  integrate the MyCiTi MyConnect ticket system. Other elements of ticketing that need to be addressed include station infrastructure, law enforcement and the culture of fare evasion. Passengers’ input into the development of the ticketing system will be fundamental to its success.

Potential Opportunities for corporates/private sector :

  • Potential for start-ups and established companies to continue to develop real time information technology to improve passenger experience and increase efficiencies in the network.
Functional Component 8: Transport enforcement

Looks at the potential to decriminalise certain offences (eg. trespassing), in favour of enforcement by TDA, allowing for associated revenue to be fed back into the security of the rail system.

Potential Opportunities for corporates/private sector :

  • Potential for new security company contracts.
Functional Component 9: Rolling stock

The City will take ownership of all rolling stock and undertake an upgrading programme:

  • Operational rolling stock will be upgraded at a cost to the Department of Transport of R10 million for each train set
  • Currently non-operational rolling stock will be upgraded at a cost to the Department of Transport of R35 million per train set
  • The cost of upgrading stock already undergoing overhaul (or in the past 2 years) will be borne by PRASA

The City would then lease  the rolling stock, along with already allocated new stock, to the relevant rail operator. The ‘Cape Gauge’ infrastructure of the network will be retained as speeds are determined to be sufficient for urban areas and the cost of upgrading the entire network would be prohibitive.

Potential Opportunities for corporates/private sector :

  • Private sector input into the management and technological aspects of streamlining and finding greater efficiencies in rolling stock upgrade systems and processes.
  • Increased advertising opportunities on the inside and outside of trains.
Functional Component 10: Universal access

All rail infrastructure will be upgraded to meet universal access standards.


Potential Opportunities for corporates/private sector :

  • Innovation in developing locally appropriate responses to universal access requirements, including design of stations and rolling stock, ticketing systems and infrastructure, passenger information services.
Functional Component 11: Regulations

The City will commence consultation with the Railway Safety Regulator.

Functional Component 12: Human resources

The City aims to increase local employment opportunities wherever possible. Training will be a priority and existing Metrorail staff will be given opportunities to continue employment should contracts be awarded to new operators. Labour unions will be a key stakeholder during this transition.

Functional Component 13: Change management

Commuters will be the focus of the TDA’s change management plan.

Functional Component 14: Marketing and communications

A truly integrated transport network must also look integrated, therefore all stations will be branded with TDA collateral and all trains will be rebranded as  ‘MyCiTi Rail’. Operators on each rail corridor will be required to report their performance statistics monthly.

Functional Component 15: Investment opportunities

The City will invest in further expanding the number and range of rail services that it offers including additional services such as a Business Express (potentially funded by congestion charging) and future corridors including the Atlantis line,Fisantekraal/Malmesbury line and the North-South (central) link. Economic feasibility studies into these projects will commence.

Potential Opportunities for corporates/private sector :

  • Significant opportunity to develop a range of different public-private projects and services to optimise the use of the public rail network infrastructure.
Functional Component 16: Financial management

A detailed financial planning process will take a 2 stage approach:

  • Stage 1 deals with those financial requirements that can be identified at the start of the assignment process; and
  • Stage 2 deals with those financial requirements that cannot be identified
    in sufficient detail at the outset but must be developed and analysed by
    TDA.

Allocation of subsidies available for metropolitan rail services will need to be determined.