S. African president calls for addressing commuter rail challenges

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CAPE TOWN, March 21 (Xinhua) -- President Cyril Ramaphosa has directed Minister of Transport Blade Nzimande to urgently resolve the challenges plaguing South Africa's commuter rail network, his office said on Thursday.

The Presidency issued the statement after Ramaphosa held a meeting with Nzimande in Cape Town.

Among the challenges raised at the meeting was the deterioration of infrastructure and unacceptable delays of train services, which often result in commuters arriving late for work, school and other commitments, presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko said.

Prior to the meeting, the president boarded a train from Mabopane near Johannesburg to the Pretoria CBD to get the first-hand experience of the difficulties regularly experienced by commuters.

"There is no reason why commuters should have to endure frequent delays or feel unsafe on our trains. This is a problem that we can work together to solve," Ramaphosa said after the trip.

At the meeting with Nzimande, the president stressed the need for a safe, reliable and integrated public transport system to support the country's economic development aspirations, Diko said.

Poor service and sabotage have crippled South Africa's commuter network, raising complaints from commuters.

To make things worse, commuter trains have also been targeted by local gangs. In September last year, a group of armed men attacked commuters on a Metrorail train in Cape Town, leaving one dead and eight others injured.

The South African government has earmarked 172 billion rand (about 12 billion U.S. dollars) for a modernization program meant to eliminate challenges occasioned by aged infrastructure.

However, longstanding challenges at the state-run Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) have hampered the implementation of the program which is believed to be one of the largest urban rail modernization program in the world.

Urgent action is required to accelerate the program, the statement quoted Ramaphosa as saying.

The president has directed immediate action to strengthen governance by stabilizing the leadership cohort at PRASA board level and filling critical vacancies, according to Diko.

Ramaphosa has also directed that a capable and skilled team of specialists should be established to conduct due diligence on the rail network to determine the extent of challenges, said Diko. Enditem

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