AMBITIOUS PLAN TO LINK COASTAL CITIES: DAILY DISPATCH

Rail network would take pressure off deadly N2

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma said an ambitious railway network that would link Cape Town and Durban would also open up economic development in the Eastern Cape and provide a viable alternative to road travel.

The project, if successful, would ease pressure, congestion and road deaths on the N2 – dubbed South Africa’s deadliest road – between East London, Mthatha and Kokstad.

Zuma was responding to a question posed by UDM leader Bantu Holomisa in the National Assembly about reducing congestion along the N2 “death stretch” last week.

Provincial transport spokesman Ncedo Kumbaca said construction phases for the project would begin between 2015 and 2016.

However, it would take the Eastern Cape provincial government between 20 and 40 years to complete the planned transport system as outlined in the Department of Transport’s 2050 National Transport Master Plan (Natmap).

Kumbaca said the coastal rail belt between Durban and Cape Town would run through East London, Mthatha, Port Elizabeth, Dutywa and Butterworth.

“The state of the N2 road is deteriorating fast due to pressure from freight trucks travelling between Durban and Cape Town,” he said, adding that Sanral was constantly working on upgrades on the road. “It is going to be a futile exercise if the N2 is not supported by a robust rail network.”

Kumbaca said the project would be broken up into four phases.

“The Coastal Rail Belt is critical to the future development aspirations of the Eastern Cape in terms of connecting the province to the bigger coastal economies of our neighbouring provinces,” he said.

Kumbaca said the network would function as both a passenger and goods transportation line.

“Different stakeholders, including China, have shown interest in investing in this project,” he said.

“The project is going to happen. We can’t keep on postponing.”

Kumbaca said the budget was currently unknown as the department was still busy with feasibility studies.

Holomisa yesterday said he had decided to pose the question to the President since Zuma and deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe were heading up a committee relating to infrastructure development.

“I thought since people were dying on Eastern Cape roads, why don’t we consider a transport infrastructure upgrade [in the province],” said Holomisa.

Transnet spokesman Mboniso Sigonyela said: “The province has expressed an interest for a coastal line to transport passengers between Durban and East London but Transnet’s current plans do not include such a line, not even for freight purposes.

“However we are in discussions with the provincial government to determine their needs.”

South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union’s provincial spokesman Honest Sinama said Transnet had on numerous occasions been approached with the railway line request but had dragged its feet “because they are only interested in profits”.

“In the wake of this new development, we seriously hope and trust that they minimise their resistance and consider the needs of people.”

If it didn’t happen, the province should expect to bury people on a daily basis as a result of road deaths.

DA Eastern Cape provincial legislature leader Bobby Stevenson welcomed plans for a the project. — evansm@dispatch.co.za