South Africa: What Broke South African Rail - and Can It Be Fixed?


We are now at the point where most of South Africa's railway network is likely to be written off and closed. Full or partial privatisation is the only way to save the railways.

It is early 2010.

We are standing on one of Johannesburg's old yellow mine dumps, looking south. In the middle distance is the magnificent FNB Stadium that will host the Fifa World Cup final. In the foreground is an elegantly arched concrete bridge carrying the shining rails, masts and overhead cables of the new 14km rail link between central Johannesburg and Nasrec. After 18 months of construction at a cost of R70-million (2020 value: R115-million), the new line is ready to ferry more than 20,000 peak-hour passengers.

Move on 10 years to January 2020.

The Nasrec station is closed. The steel of the rails is rusting; the overhead electrical equipment has vanished, apart from a few lengths of cable drooping uselessly from the masts; and the pillars of the concrete bridge are covered with graffiti and piled with litter. Many other stations have been wrecked by vandals and thieves.

The broken and deserted Nasrec rail link is an emblem of what has happened to the South African...

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