Honourable Speaker, Premier, Members of the Legislature, department officials, media and guests.
This province still lacks a coherent efficient and workable integrated transport plan. There needs to be a priority move back to rail transportation in this province! The “Back to rail” campaign, which was introduced in 2008 amidst fanfare from the Minister of Transport, is a hopeless failure.
In the past week we have read in the media about the suspension of Kei Rail because the department can’t pay an R80million debt owing to contractors.!
Kei rail employees are now anxious about the security of their jobs.
Furthermore, the R100-000 monthly operating subsidy for the world famous Apple Express train in the Metro has been suspended.
We refer to the policy speech of the 2009/10 financial year.
In the speech, on pages 5 and 6 of the report the former MEC alludes to the success of the Kei Rail project – the opportunities it has created for new jobs within this project.
Speaker, I wish to quote from the report in this regard:
“The department remains on course on our move “Back to rail”.
“Our award winning Kei Rail project is making great progress.”
“This is one of the shining examples of government’s branch line strategy…”
This report is not telling the truth!
In addition Speaker, the “Apple Express” train in the Metro is not receiving its monthly operating subsidy.
The subsidy is suspended . . . due to financial constraints from the department.
The future of this world famous train is at stake.
This world famous icon is one of only two narrow gauge steam trains in the world.
This world famous train crosses the highest narrow gauge railway bridge in the world namely Van Stadens bridge.
This world famous train is regarded as operating on one of the top six narrow gauge lines in the world.
Honourable Speaker, this Legislature is always lamenting about economic development and promoting tourism yet Speaker we let this world famous attraction go to ruin.
However Speaker, what is galling is that there is money to continue funding the Apple Express.
What is shocking is that the mismanagement and wastage of other funds from within the department could have kept both this and the Kei project as going concerns.
To want to end the legacy of the Apple Express is a travesty, a great shame and a blow to future economic and tourist potential for the Metro.
The suspending of the Apple Express squeezes further economic opportunity and choice for potential investors and tourists.
This will have a knock on effect and cause more job losses within Metro tourism.
Honourable Speaker, I refer to a leader article from the Port Elizabeth Herald newspaper dated 30th November 2010 titled “Save iconic attractions before they vanish forever”.
The article speaks to the Apple Express saga and I quote from the article:
“The most disturbing of this dismal scenario is the apparent failure by government officials to recognise the enormous value of these unique tourism assets and to act before they vanish forever.”
Further on in the article it states:
“It is high time for a far more imaginative and pro active response from both government and private sector to ensure that we do not lose the very reason why visitors want to spend time in the Bay.”
In the concluding paragraph of the article the Editor states:
“Failure to act, will irreparably damage our tourism potential”.
Speaker, we know that a reduction of tourists to the Metro, and indeed this province, means further job losses and curtailment of economic activity.
Yet, meeting after meeting in this Legislature, the house laments about job losses and how we need to create economic opportunities like boosting tourism.
So Speaker, our provincial “Back to Rail” campaign is in chaos.
Furthermore Speaker, any ideas to introduce a seamless efficient integrated public transport system between road and rail in this province is a joke at present!
Honourable Speaker, part of the way to reinstate our “Back to Rail” campaign is to market transport transition from road to rail.
The roads in this province are deteriorating at a rapid rate largely due to unfettered overloading by trucks and little law enforcement.
There needs to be a strong credible marketing campaign from the department to encourage and incentivise road freight hauliers to revert back to rail.
Honourable Speaker, this Legislature needs to be serious about this campaign.
Honourable Speaker, we say to the new MEC that she has a golden opportunity to make her mark and make herself famous very quickly if she can reinstate both Kei Rail and the Apple Express rail systems.
We challenge you MEC in your reply to this debate to tell us what the plans are to have these two train services operational again in the province.
Speaker, the DA would propose the following:
1) We need to reprioritise budget to fund these projects.
2) We need to do a comprehensive audit of all rail stock, branch lines etc and make an attractive proposal to investors to join us and get an efficient rail system operating in the province.
3) There needs to be incentives for private investors to join government in this initiative.
With greater emphasis on rail freight transport and fewer trucks on our roads would mean less ware and tare, less maintenance, less traffic congestion and fewer accidents .
MEC, it is back to the drawing board!
Our people are awaiting decisive action and leadership from your department in this matter.
It is now time to seize the moment!
The Democratic Alliance supports this report.