The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) plans to install a modern signalling system to enable the country's trains to run more smoothly.
Prasa announced its plans at the Railway Safety Imbizo in Mamelodi East, Pretoria, on 12 October 2011, coinciding with Transport Month in South Africa.
The agency has set aside R1.9-billion (US$242-million) to overhaul trains' signalling systems.
The investment forms part of Prasa's aim to make rail the backbone of transport systems in the country, as it is able to carry high volumes of commuters.
Prasa CEO Lucky Montana said: "The new signalling upgrades and the introduction of new technology will ensure operational efficiency, unlocking capacity and improving reliability."
Deputy Minister of Transport Jeremy Cronin said that rail was a far safer mode of transport as there were few accidents and fatalities than road-based transport.
Phase one of the signal upgrade has already begun at the Midway-Lenz corridor in the south of Johannesburg.
Improvements will also be done in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape in November.
Doubling rail tracks and improving stations
Prasa has also set aside R373-million ($47-million) to double rail tracks at Pretoria's Eerste Fabrieke and Greenview, build a new station at Greenville and upgrade the Mamelodi Gardens and Pienaarspoort stations.
The doubling of 4.5km of tracks is currently under way between the Eerste Fabrieke and Greenview stations.
"In both Greenview and Midway-Lenz we deal with higher than normal passenger numbers and have prioritised these and other high-volume corridors in line with passenger demand to deliver quality passenger rail services," said Montana.
According to Prasa, the Mamelodi to Pretoria CBD corridor accommodates 91 000 commuters daily.
With Metrorail running only a single train in and out of the section between Eerste Fabrieke and Pienaarspoort via Mamelodi Gardens, the doubling of the rail tracks will enhance the ability to transport the 31 000 commuters during peak hour.
Metrorail is Prasa's commuter rail operator.
Prasa's predictions are that peak-hour traffic at these stations will almost double in the coming years, warranting an improvement to the facilities.
"With the finalisation of the rail-doubling project and the introduction of bi-directional signalling, our rail operator will be able to almost double the number of daily trains on the corridor, necessitating increasing the combined capacity of these three key stations from handling approximately 39 000 people per day to 58 000 people per day in future," said Montana.
After the upgrade the Mamelodi Gardens station will have two island platforms instead of one, and one platform will be extended by 50m.
A new station with two island platforms and four platforms will be constructed at Greenview, while a contractor is still being procured for the construction at Pienaarspoort station.
Montana added: "Our aim as Prasa is to improve the running time in the corridor from a 30-minute waiting period to five to seven minutes – effectively moving approximately 60 000 people to their areas of employment on time."
The rail improvement project will create 398 jobs.
The current phase of the project has already generated 268 jobs, from which 181 are specifically for the unskilled, semi-skilled and nearby communities.
The next phase will produce 130 jobs, while permanent jobs will also be available after the end of construction as stations will need personnel.
Relocation of residents
Residents living in houses close to the railway tracks have been relocated, with Prasa making sure the individuals are satisfied with the new arrangements.
According to Prasa, the owners were approached with offers to purchase and were allowed to negotiate the terms of sale. The owners were also able choose their new houses and preferred locations, with Prasa overseeing the relocation process.
Prasa will also help with the registration process.
Montana said: "We want to ensure that the upgrading of the stations does not interfere with the stability of the communities located close to our rail tracks. We want to treat them with the upmost dignity and respect during their relocation."