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By Marizka Coetzer


Glaring gap in new trains may be problem for elders and disabled

Problem for those in wheelchairs and the elderly was raised back in 2018 when the Dunnottar train factory first opened.

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) has introduced its new electric multiple unit trains in an attempt
to revive the local railway industry, but seems to have missed a basic step in catering to its commuters.

Is’timela Sabantu, or The People’s Train, boasts electronic noticeboards inside and out, spacious carriages with air conditioning and bigger parcel compartments. But it lacks one essential feature – easy access to the train for all. Elderly people or those in wheelchairs may have trouble getting up the 30cm-high step that is located about 20cm away from the platform.

The issue has been raised since 2018 when the Dunnottar train factory first opened. In January 2018, Prasa’s then
strategic asset development group executive Piet Sebola reportedly said Prasa had been aware of the problem from the beginning, and R172 billion had been set aside to renovate the stations.

In 2019, then Prasa group chief strategy officer Dr Sipho Sithole said R59 billion would be spent on new rolling stock, with the balance going to modernisation. That left R113 billion which, looking at the state of some train
stations, hasn’t been spent on what it was designated for.

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At the time, rail expert Dr Willem Sprong cited the gap between the platform and the train as a major cause of injuries. And so did the Rail Safety Regulator’s state of safety report, which referred to more than 700 “platform-train interchange occurrences” across all the rail operators when “passengers … entrain and detrain stationary or moving trains” during 2017-18 – an increase of 30% compared to 2016-17.

Among commuters at the Pretoria train station was Mpho Masemola, who got off at the station after travelling from Pretoria North.

“For me, the step is okay, because I am still young. But I don’t know about the elders, they could struggle,” he said.

Masemola described the train ride as quiet and added that he didn’t notice if there was a toilet on board.

“It was nice, cool and relaxing. It’s so nice you can take someone on a romantic date via the train,” he said.

On the other side of the train platform, Given Mageza, Xolane Sethaba and Bongane Xulu were getting ready to take the train home to Mabopane.

“The trains are very nice and very convenient. They are on time, unlike the older ones. The thing with the yellowbone trains was that they burned out,” Mageza said.

He said he was impressed with the cameras and smoke detectors inside the train. “Let’s just hope the cameras are being monitored,” he added.

Mageza also noted people could not “train surf” on the electric multiple unit trains. “There’s nowhere here they can grab and hold on to,” Magesza said.

He said the motion sensors on the doors also meant no one would get hurt or stuck in them again. Bongane Xulu said he was grateful for the security inside of the train.

“Before we had trouble with thugs taking our stuff,” he said.

Xulu said he also liked the cleaner environment. “But on the platforms, they must bring more security, because the thugs will no longer commute inside the trains but [wait] on the platforms, especially at night,” he said.

Sethaba said the new trains were safer than the old ones.

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“Once you are inside you cannot open those doors. So if there are thieves on the inside they won’t be able to rob us and get out of the windows.”

He liked the air conditioning and the electronic noticeboards on the train that alerted the commuters when to get off at which stations.

“It is also cheaper, the train is R18.50 to town and back whereas the taxi is R60,” he said. Sethaba said the new trains felt like the Gautrain.

“We wish for this to continue as is. It must be taken care of,” he added.Prasa spokesperson Andiswa Makanda said the resumption of the commercial service was crucial for the residents of Mabopane and surrounding areas, who relied on public transport to get to work, schools, institutions for higher learning and to look for jobs.

Makanda could not confirm when the platforms would be adjusted. Prasa’s “modernisation” project was launched in 2014.