Government, organised labour to ensure implementation of National Rail Policy

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula says government will engage with organised labour to ensure that the implementation of the National Rail Policy is responsive to the interests of workers.

“Rail transport in South Africa has a long and colourful history dating back to 1859 with the construction of the first railway line from Cape Town to Wellington, finally completed in 1862,” Mbalula said.

Speaking during an engagement with rail stakeholders, Mbalula said the approval of the White Paper on National Rail Policy by Cabinet in March 2022 marked the beginning of a new chapter for South Africa’s railway industry.

The White Paper was gazetted on 12th May 2022 for implementation and is accessible to the South African public.

“The White Paper creates policy certainty that introduces radical structural reforms, which enable broader participation and open new avenues for investment and competitiveness,” Mbalula said.

Mbalula said a key element of the White Paper is the opening up of space for private sector investment and effective economic regulation that ensures fair and regulated access to both primary and secondary networks.

“Challenges in the railway sector, over time, weakened the efficiency of the system and limited its contribution to economic growth and effective community connections.

“The De Villiers report of 1986 advocated against new rail investments but rather sweating existing assets and deregulating the road sectors,” Mbalula said.

He said the obsolete state of much of the rail infrastructure and rolling stock, limitations of the narrow gauge and underutilisation of existing network presented a few of the many noted challenges facing the sector.

Mbalula explained that the White Paper on National Rail Policy intends to place rail on a sound footing as the backbone of a seamlessly integrated transport value chain that makes a meaningful contribution to the economy.

“Government’s interventions to achieve railway renaissance, the positioning of rail as a key contributor to economic transformation and the reduction in harmful greenhouse gas emissions are clearly articulated in the policy document.

“Research conducted shows that these interventions will undoubtedly reposition both passenger and freight rail to achieve inherent competitiveness though exploiting rail’s genetic technologies that will enable the sector to increase axle load, speed and train lengths across the board,” the minister said.

Mbalula said improved rural access, increased mobility, increased job creation in the rail sector through infrastructure construction and contribution to economic development are some of key elements that the policy addresses in relation to passenger rail.

“The White Paper presents a multi-decade vision of how the railway sector would evolve over time through private sector participation and investment.

”Commuter rail is, however, an integral part of our public transport system. The National Rail Policy therefore acknowledges the importance of devolving public transport functions to the lowest levels of government,” the Minister said.

The National Rail Policy, which plays a pivotal role in advancing the rail sector was developed through extensive consultation with key rail experts and stakeholders.

The policy seeks to address the challenges faced by the sector and position rail as the backbone of South Africa’s national land transport.

The White Paper was gazetted on 12th May 2022 for implementation and is accessible to the South African public.

Source: South African Government News Agency