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PRASA misses its own deadline to fix ruined train stations

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  • It has been a year since GroundUp visited train stations in Mamelodi Gardens, Pienaarspoort, Greenview and Denneboom. The stations were badly vandalised and unkept.
  • PRASA, at the time, said these stations would be operating by March 2022 but it would appear that work only began in May this year.
  • Many of the informal traders who relied on business from train commuters say they are battling to make ends meet.

The deadline set by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) for when trains will be fully operational in Pretoria has come and gone.

It’s been a year since GroundUp visited four train stations in Mamelodi Gardens, Pienaarspoort, Greenview and Denneboom. All of them, including Greenview which had not even been completed, were badly vandalised, filthy and overgrown with grass. PRASA, in response to our questions, said the stations would be functional by March 2022. However, work to restore the train tracks only started in May this year.

During a recent visit to Mamelodi Gardens station, we saw workers installing overhead cables. Many of the cables had been stripped and damaged during lockdown. When we visited in 2021, the station looked abandoned and unkept. But walls have since been painted and the public toilets fixed and cleaned.

Nkele Montsho, an informal trader outside the station for 14 years, said it had been years since the toilets were useable. “The toilets were fixed around July. I now feel comfortable using them. Even on the other side of the platform, commuters are able to use those toilets now,” said Montsho.

“We really need the trains to resume. We’re desperate because work is scarce. The trains are a real business booster. I can’t afford to buy food for my four children,” said Montsho.

Another trader, Jennifer Mashilo, said: “It’s tough because there is no business. I’ve been selling here for eight years. I support four grandchildren with the money I make,” she said.

A contract worker, who asked not to be named, told GroundUp cable installation was complete at Koedoespoort, Bossman and Pienaarspoort stations and almost complete at Mamelodi Gardens. “It’s just touch-ups. The train should be running by the end of October,” he said.

Informal traders Sophie Machata, and Jennifer Mashilo, have been selling outside Mamelodi Gardens train station for more than eight years. They said traders used to line up to sell various goods here but have given up due to the unreliable train service.

At Pienaarspoort station, another group of contract workers had just completed the installation of overhead cables when we arrived. But very little other work had been done. Rubbish and cardboard boxes were scattered in buildings near the ticket office. The public toilets were locked, but smelly.

Between Greenview station, which has not been completed, and Pienaarspoort station, about a 30-minute walk, we saw four Fidelity security officers. A patroller said the guards were there to secure the new infrastructure being installed.

Last year, PRASA’s Noluvuyo Halana said that the rail agency’s R102-million project at Greenview station started in 2011 but halted in October 2018. She said the appointed contractor had said that due to unrest in the community, they could not complete the project.

One of the badly vandalised buildings at the incomplete Greenview station.

Phomolong informal settlement resident Patrick Nyalunga has lived near the station since 2007. Nyalunga works in Mountain View and used to rely on the train service to commute to work and back home.

He said commuters had to get off at Gardens which is about a 30-minute walk. “In winter it’s not safe to walk. Some days, we would ask the driver to go slowly and we would take the risk and jump off just when the train passed Greenview,” said Nyalunga. He said over the years, residents have pleaded with PRASA to get the station running.

“There’s no change. The infrastructure is still the same,” said patroller Gainy Modishane.

At Denneboom station, a notice was displayed at the entrance to let commuters know about the disruption to services. Although it was in a better state than other stations last year, there was still rubbish and a smell of urine near the entrance.

A security officer told GroundUp that workers cleaned the station regularly.

The Denneboom train station remains closed to the public but appeared to be in a better state than when we visited a year ago.

Thabo Lediga from Mamelodi East has a stall outside Tshwane Regional Mall, next to Denneboom station. He last used the train to Bossman in February 2021.

“When the train is available, I can go to Johannesburg to stock up material and other goods I also sell like blankets and umbrellas. I hope the Johannesburg line will be brought back soon. For now we have to organise transport with other hawkers to buy our stock,” he said.

PRASA spokesperson Andiswa Makanda, said the Pretoria to Pienaarspoort line will not be running this week. “Testing has been commissioned in preparation for the service resumption.”

When asked about the Greenview station, Makanda said as a result of extensive vandalism, the project will have to be restarted. A new tender was advertised in September and the project is expected to take 18 months after the contractor has been chosen, said Makanda.

In a statement on 26 September, Metrorail announced that train services on two lines in Gauteng North, the Mabopane to Pretoria line and the Saulsville to Pretoria line, are also suspended until further notice.

© 2022 GroundUp. This article was first published here.

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