Could trains be the future?
The government has drafted a new white paper which aims to migrate passengers and freight from road to rail over the next 30 years. Although not yet tabled with Transnet, the idea is for cities to run their own local passenger train services and the introduction of long-distance passenger services with trains travelling in excess of 200km/h.
Journalist, Vuyo Nzolongwane uses a train daily to commute from Mdantsane to Vincent. She writes an account of the positives and not so great aspects of being an exclusive train rider.
Taking the train to work or to run errands from Mdantsane to East London is one of the cheapest forms of public transportation. A monthly train ticket for someone who lives in Mdantsane and boards the train either at Mount Ruth or Mdantsane station spends R160 per month for a ticket compared to the R 1 040 that they spend in a taxi.
A train ticket is not more than R10 from Berlin Station to East London Station and you never spend more than R200 on a monthly ticket.
The long-distance walk from home to the station is an inconvenience, although walking is good for one’s health. Ensuring that I am there on time to catch the train to work can sometimes make all the saving seem like it’s not worth the trouble. This is especially frustrating when you get stuck in the middle of nowhere due to mechanical problems. Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) employees give no update to train riders; this makes train rides unpleasant.
Trains can be late and you have to return your ticket if you’re one of the people who buy a single ticket to wherever you are going. Communication, again, is very poor. Often you have to get off and catch a taxi or wait until whenever the problem is, fixed. You just have to be patient and hope that it will eventually start moving.
Trains are often overcrowded, especially in the mornings when everyone is going to work and school and the late afternoon when everyone is returning. There are hardly any places to sit and you stand the entire journey that usually takes 30-45 minutes.
The only form of security is the guards who check your train ticket when you get in or out of the train. The guards do not patrol the train carriages unless it is month-end.
The spirit of Ubuntu within the trains is overwhelming. Children give up their seats for Gogos, men buy women sweets from the ladies who sell, teenagers cuddle up in corners, gossiping and reminiscing about the past weekend’s activities.
The ever so brave young men are constantly giving each other a hand to get into the moving train when friends are late, blocking the doors to make sure they get in. This can be very dangerous, hence the bravery.
Every carriage has a family-like vibe as people who ride in particular carriages know each other. Crime is not common inside the carriages as the riders stand up for each other. The mothers lookout for primary school kids to make sure they are not bullied by older kids. They hug them when they’re upset, they stop physical fights and buy single tickets if a child misplaces or loses his/her monthly ticket.
There are three carriages in the train that are strictly for religious services, you find those in the morning. They get overcrowded because people want to hear the scriptures before they get to work. These carriages are filled with song, dance and testimonials.
The trains may not be perfect, but people ride them not only because they want to save money, but because they feel safer as there are hardly ever any incidents that make one hold their breath because they almost collided into another train or have to ask the driver to reduce the driving speed.