Helderburg Line

An Open-letter to Prasa

I trust that this letter finds you well. 

There are a lot of people who commute daily between the Helderberg basin (Somerset West/Gordons bay/Strand) and Stellenbosch. A twenty minute car/bus/taxi ride is sometimes almost an hour and half during the morning peak.

At the moment using the train is impractical for two reasons:
1. There is no direct service between Stellenbosch and Helderberg
2. Transfers are increasingly difficult as the Cape Town to Stellenbosch (32XX) and Somerset West to Cape Town (34XX) don’t sync up at Eerste Rivier Station/Junction 

This has been bugging me for a while and finally a solution presented itself. 

A New Line on Existing Tracks:
I suggest using middle-income commuters to finance a pilot project to test the following solution. Currently MetroRail offers a Business Express service to Cape Town from Somerset West. There is no service between Stellenbosch and Cape Town, although there is a large number of middle income users who would not mind paying a premium for an express service. International tourists also travel between Cape Town and Stellenbosch often.

Phase one: 
Move the Business Express service from Somerset West to Eerste Rivier. Add 2 shuttle services with only 2-4 car sets, each leaving Stellenbosch and Somerset West so that they always arrive/depart at Eerste Rivier within 5 minutes of each other. Synchronise the departure/arrival of the new 34XX/32XX with the 
Phase two:
Once the service is operating smoothly, extend the shuttle service from Muldersvlei to Strand. 2 - 4 car sets should be sufficient, especially if the service is at least every 30 minutes. Terminate all Cape Town services at Eerste Rivier. Perhaps one regular 34XX and 32XX would be needed in the morning peak and one in the evening peak. These can also be express services, only stopping at the busiest stations after Eerste Rivier, since the shuttle service will cover the in-between stations.

But I believe that this would be unnecessary eventually. Commuters should start to trust a more regular service and don’t feel so desperate to get onto a train when they know another train is coming soon. Also, I have noticed that from Cape Town, more than half of commuters disembark the Northern Line before or at Eerste Rivier during peaks. 

Possible Caveats:

1. Ageing signalling and points. I noticed that almost all the stations on these two lines still use mechanical signalling and I don’t think I have seen any points that are not mechanical. This strategy might need to wait until the points and signals have been upgraded.
2. Passing (see below)
3. Availability of sets. I believe this will be mitigated by the need for fewer EMUs as the smaller sets will free up the centre EMU currently used (I presume that is because of overloading during peaks?)

Passing Solution: 

As the entire line from Strand to Muldervlei is single track, passing is required at stations. Most of the stations have passing sides. Currently passing wastes a lot of time on the line, as the first set stops for passengers to embark, then it reverses, stops, waits for point to switch, and then enter the passing side. When the second set has stopped at the platform, the first train departs. 

With two platforms, there is no need for either train to reverse. The passing side simply becomes the track for the opposing platform. Since the first train has to wait for the second to arrive, the doors of both sets can be opened, allowing for passengers to step-though to the opposing train. This means that one platform can be used for either train.

Many of these stations have an additional side next to the passing side. I doubt any of them are still in use as the farms they use to service have adopted the use of Lorries. However, we do have a number of rail cars that have been damaged in fire. Surely its feasible, assuming the bogies are still in good shape, to convert these into “moving-platforms.” Just shunt them to the unused sides. Should TransNet need the sides, the “moving-platforms” can be moved to the passing side. 

Public/Private Option:
I understand that a solution as described above might be outside of the current capabilities of MetroRail. Especially with the scarcity of rolling-stock. I am very excited about developments with Gibela, but I realise that their sets will take a number of years to manufacture. I also assume that Gauteng would take priority as road traffic and population distribution demand this. It is for this reason that I am inclined to investigate the feasibility of a public/private partnership. Perhaps purchasing old/damaged stock and refurbish those? Perhaps its possible to rent the line? In principle, would Prasa be open to such a project?

I would appreciate it if you can give me some feedback.

Thank you so much for indulging me.

Kind regards,


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