The suspension of the Apple Express and Kei Rail services is a major setback for future integrated rail transport in the Eastern Cape.
The much vaunted provincial “Back to Rail” campaign introduced in the province in 2008 is in tatters.
A subsidy of R100 000 per month is being withdrawn for the Apple Train while Kei Rail operations remain suspended after the Eastern Cape Department of Transport failed to pay a debt of more than R80 million owed to Transnet Rail Engineering (TRE).
This chaos should never have been allowed to happen!
The other wasted funds and fruitless expenditures incurred by the Eastern Cape Department of Transport in the past, could have been used to sustain these two services in the province.
As the Apple Express is a world famous train and known for crossing the highest narrow gauge bridge in the world, it is vital that this service continues for the tourist wellbeing of the Nelson Mandela Metropole to flourish.
The job uncertainty of Kei Rail employees is alarming and needs to be addressed.
These employees need peace of mind as to their ongoing future employment with Kei Rail.
The answer to this problem is a multi faceted approach. I will during the debate on the annual report of the Department of Transport in the Eastern Cape Legislature today be asking the new MEC, Thandiswa Marawu, to undertake the following steps to ensure that Apple Express and Kei Rail services are reinstated to their rightful roles in the province:
1) There needs to be an audit of the affairs of Kei rail and rail assets in the province;
2) Funding should be ring fenced to ensure the continued operations of these services;
3) Engagement with private investors to partner with government and be given attractive incentives to invest be undertaken by the department;
4) An aggressive marketing campaign to encourage greater transition from road to rail by passengers and hauliers. Funding must be sought for this;
5) An analyses of the cost savings from road wear, road maintenance and the cost savings from decreased vehicle accidents.
In view of the seriousness of the curtailment of the two services and the world fame of the Apple Express, should this plea not be heeded by the new MEC and her department, I intend taking up this matter with my transport colleagues in National Parliament.