By Tshabalira Lebakeng
It’s been two years since many train stations in across the country stopped operating. Initially, station doors were closed during lockdown level five, but because of the damage to infrastructure and theft that took place during the lock down, many never reopened. This has had a huge impact on people who relied on railway services. According to a National Household Travel Survey in 2013, about 700, 000 South Africans representing 13% of the employed population regularly used trains as to get to and from work.
Trains are cheaper than other modes of transport such as taxis or private vehicles. For example, a taxi trip from Orlando to Johannesburg in 2022 would cost R14.00 whereas a train costs R7.50. In a country where the minimum wage is just over R23 per hour, this kind of saving goes a long way.
But it is not just regular commuters going to work who have been hit hard by stations shuttering, informal traders who rely on passengers for their business are also suffering.
Informal traders are feeling the impact
Katleho Ranyamatsane, a 26-years-old living at Orlando West said after finishing his grade 12, he didn’t get funding to further his sturdies. With a little cash from his parents, he started selling sweets, fruit and cigarettes in a train. He caught a 04h00 train every day from Orlando Station to Johannesburg Park Station. He paid the R7,50 and said profits were good, while he also made friends on board the carriages. Ranyamatsane would use some of his profits to buy food and electricity and was also saving to buy DJ equipment.
When lockdowns were enforced, all that came to an end. Instead, he would set up a small table next to his gate where he sold the sweets, fruit and vegetables but the profits are "just not the same".
Thirty-four-year- old Mpho Seboka from Orlando took over his mother’s business of selling fruit and vegetables at Mlamlankunzi Station. When trains stopped running, he was forced to move onto the streets but he said business there "is slow". He hoped that the trains will return to normal service as soon as possible.
Margaret Ubisi, a salon owner in Orlando West says the lack of railway services has also impacted her business.
“When I go to buy my salon products I used to take a train. I can load my stuff without paying any extra money. At the taxis you have to pay for whole seats, if you have too much luggage,” said Ubisi.
“Stress levels goes up because I have to negotiate prices with the taxi drives. But I hope Ramaposa will bring back the trains,” she said.
Transport minister, Fikile Mbalula revealedbin early 2022 that it will cost nearly R5 billion to repair and rehabilitated rail infrastructure across the country, some of which had already begun.