PASSENGER TRANSPORT IN SOUTH AFRICA
A MULTI MODAL ANALYSIS
[Transportation 3B – CBTL302]
9. HEAVY RAIL
9.2 A Description of Heavy Rail
“Heavy rail” operations are usually commuter services of long-distance railways, and as such often share the tracks with goods trains. This distinguishes “heavy” rail from “metro” and “rapid public transport” systems which may be built to the same standards but which are dedicated passenger services only. (Metros and rapid public transport do not exist in South Africa).
According to Vuchic (1981 : 312), many heavy rail services worldwide operate at below their full potential. This is due to “obsolete labour practices, inadequate financial assistance from public sources, uninterested management, the resulting poor maintenance and lack of modernisation or progressive thinking in general”. However, Vuchic notes that “it is because of the inherent high performance of the mode that even the inefficiently run systems provide an extremely valuable service in metropolitan areas.”
Most of the research has dealt with technical matters, such as the design of rolling stock and facilities, the maintenance of equipment, the capacity of lines, and signalling requirements.
9.3 Historical Overview
Commuter trips peaked at 707 million in 1982. After that year, a steady decline took place with passenger levels “bottoming out” at 403 million in 1994. Much of this decline can be attributed to minibus-taxi competition, as well as violence on trains during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Since 1994, passenger levels have increased to 512 million in 2005/06. (10) Heavy rail handles an insignificant (5%) share of home-to-work travel in South Africa (See Table I at the beginning of this chapter).
9.4 Finances of Heavy Rail
In 1930 the proportion of third class commuters was approximately one-third. At present third class passengers make up more than 95 percent of total commuters (2).
For the purpose of this section it is irrelevant how the shortfall on passenger services is funded. What is of importance is that fare income represents only a percentage of total cost. In view of the historic obligation placed on heavy rail services to convey large numbers of people at low fares, it is unlikely that this level of cost coverage can be improved significantly in the short term.
9.5 Operational Factors
This paragraph will briefly review some operational factors which influence (and undermine) the effectiveness of heavy rail transport in South Africa today. They are —
Transfers and modal integration
Overcrowding and violence
Accessibility refers to the closeness of the transport route to the area being served. It is customary to express accessibility in terms of the percentage of an area within, say, one kilometre of a transport route or the percentage of the population living within, say, ten minutes walk from the nearest halt,
The total area of the Witwatersrand complex is approximately 1 600 square km stretching from Krugersdorp to Springs and from Midrand to Alberton. The total length of heavy rail route in this area is approximately 150 kilometres. This means that 300 km2 within the area lie within 1 000 metres of a heavy rail route - representing a coverage of only 18 percent in terms of area. When the wide spacing of stations (i.e. access points) is taken into account, the figure of 18% probably falls to between 10 and 15% of the population who live within an acceptable distance of a station.
Not only do these single rail routes serving South African cities cover a limited geographical area, but on their approach to the city, they tend to run through areas which are either industrial or which are “old” residential areas.
Industrial areas, by their nature, generate mainly peak traffic while the “old” residential areas generate comparatively few heavy rail passengers.
E.G. no attempts except for a long walkway in the case of N1 city (big mall), were made to physically link them with the railway and to exploit the synergy which exists between public transport and a major activity centre.
Availability can be described for the purposes of this guide as the frequency of service offered on a transport route. It is of little use to a community if a number of closely spaced routes are operated through a given area, offering good accessibility but if the frequency of services is very low - say, only twice or three times a day.
Most studies do not lay down hard and fast requirements for acceptable frequencies. One suggests that a peak hour frequency of 5 to 6 services per hour is considered “reasonable” (4:115). “Off-peak frequencies should preferably not fall below one service per hour - if they do, the local population tends to regard the service as nonexistent” (5:63).
On a country-wide basis therefore, many services now fall far short of the “one service per hour” rule.
The steady reduction in services over the years is presumably related to the drop in passenger levels referred to in para 9.3, as well as a need to contain costs. The result however is a reduced ability to attract new passenger traffic, which undermines the potential of heavy rail transport.
More attention will have to be paid to the frequency of services if heavy rail is to play a significant role in passenger transport in certain areas.
9.5.3 Transfers and modal integration
Since heavy rail offers limited levels of accessibility, the question of transfers and integration between heavy rail and supporting modes assumes particular importance.
Passengers prefer not to make the physical effort of leaving a vehicle, to wait and then to walk to another vehicle. Even in ideal circumstances, where the walking distance is short, protected from the weather and where the second vehicle is waiting to load and moves off immediately thereafter, the act of transferring is slightly stressful. Under less-than-ideal conditions, such as where the second vehicle has not yet arrived and where it is necessary to wait in conditions of poor lighting and security, transferring can be positively traumatic.
Despite these problems, most public transport systems worldwide, require passengers to transfer to a certain extent and it is therefore essential to provide conditions which are conducive towards the passenger’s peace of mind. These include:
shelter from the elements
security (for people as well as for parked cars)
short walking distances
information (i.e. how long to wait)
co-ordinated timetables which reduce waiting time.
Much of the expansion in residential areas is taking place well away from heavy rail lines. If it is the intention to integrate these areas with heavy rail services by means of feeder services, issues such as the ones listed in this paragraph will have to be addressed.
9.5.4 Overcrowding and Violence
Heavy rail is a capital-intensive form of transport which requires a high ratio of passengers to crew in order to keep total costs to a minimum. As a result, many peak-period trains operate with a crew of only two - a driver at one end and a guard at the opposite end, with (on occasion) as many as three thousand passengers in between, without supervision or security of any kind.
Heavy rail is also characterised by average station spacing of between two to three kilometres, even in built-up areas. This can result in overcrowded platforms and also means that once a train has left a station, several minutes can elapse before the train pulls into the next station. During this time, problems can arise in the train without the driver being aware of the situation.
Nevertheless, the resultant stress and tension to which heavy rail passengers are subjected cannot be overlooked, and the question could be asked whether the amount spent on security could not have been spent on other modes, such as light rail and buses, which have quicker stopping times and a higher ratio of crew to passengers resulting in better supervision, and fewer opportunities for violence and fare evasion.
9.5.5 Positive aspects and the way forward
It is not the purpose of this guide to dwell only on the weaknesses of heavy rail, however. It has a number of strengths which include the fact that heavy rail has a strong system image due to the presence of fixed, dedicated facilities such as station buildings, rails, poles and wires which lead to an impression of permanence among users who therefore experience a stronger attraction to the system (8)
In many places, heavy rail stations and lines are surrounded by open ground which have significant property development potential (provided they also generate rail passengers).
Its reliability is reasonably good and speed between stations is satisfactory. It offers reasonable standards of in-vehicle comfort. Collision rates are low. Unit costs per passenger are low under conditions of high utilisation. The fact that heavy rail uses locally produced electricity should also be taken into account. Although the benefits of electric traction in public transport are generally acknowledged, very little, if anything, has actually been done in South Africa to promote the use of electricity.
9.6 High-speed railways (Gautrain)
This study guide suggests that the high-speed scheme has been promoted, not to reduce motor car usage, but to create work for the construction industry. It is ‘professional imperialism” (see para 3.2.3) in a very subtle form.
Meaningful steps should have been taken by now (late 2009) to create a province-wide network of formal public transport services in Gauteng, well in advance of the introduction of a “high speed” line. This will still have to be done, and will have to include the following:
A regional administration equipped with the necessary legislative powers, and committed to making the entire operation a success.
An upgraded Metrorail service (in terms of better frequencies, renewal of rolling stock, better infrastructure, security, reliability, etc).
Strong refocusing of bus services to support rail stations — both existing ones and those on the high-speed line.
All-day frequencies on road and rail, with timed transfer where possible.
Through ticketing between road and rail, with a common fare structure
Co-branding of road and rail transport in terms of marketing and corporate image
From a technical point of view, while monorails are used in a number of cities, mostly in Japan, they are not regarded as a serious option in most public transport applications. Vuchic (11:598) describes some examples of monorails world-wide, but concludes:
“A serious disadvantage of monorails is the nature of their guideways and switches. Unlike rail systems, monorail beams cannot cross each other, and their switches are slow and take a large area, so that their yards and other manoeuvring areas take large space. Another disadvantage is that they have much larger profile than rail and other guided modes, so that they are not conducive to tunnel operations.
These characteristics make monorails more conducive to single lines than to networks. That is confirmed by the fact that all existing monorails consist of single lines, none of them represents a network. They are used mostly on wide streets and boulevards and in open areas, where tunnelling is not required.
In addition to their operational complexity and dependence on aerial alignments, monorails require investment much higher than light rail transit requires.
Thus, monorails represent a technological option for rapid transit lines, and in some cases they may represent an attractive solution. The factors favouring their applications include their exotic I novelty image. However, their technical characteristics present operational complexities. This is particularly the case in applications for networks of lines and alignments in built-up urban areas and tunnels, where monorails are distinctly inferior to conventional rail systems, LRT, or RRT’
Heavy rail services are characterised by limited route coverage, low frequencies on some routes and poor integration with supporting modes.
Heavy rail has certain inherent strengths however and in order to achieve its full potential it will be necessary to place more emphasis on development of railway and adjoining property to raise its industrial, residential and commercial potential. Access to stations must be improved to enable supporting modes to integrate more effectively. Closer cooperation with other modes is essential and security must be improved and maintained.