Sandstone Heritage Trust - Rail News

RN 191 - SA Rail Volume 44 Issue 4 – Editorial by Bryan Brinkman

7th June 2006

With 2010 a mere four years away, the 2006 Soccer World Cup in Germany has wet South African appetites at the thought of hosting the second biggest spectacle in the world, after the Olympics.

It promises to be the single biggest opportunity for this country to promote itself to the world as a fantastic holiday destination. There will not be another opportunity like it for the forseeable future. Tourism is currently the second biggest industry in South Africa and an important avenue for foreign income into the coffers of the nation. 2010 is not a showcase for sport - it is the culmination of what SA tourism can offer. For South Africa, it is our one-in-a-lifetime chance.

Reading excerpts from journalists covering the soccer (football) matches in Germany one gains an insight into how the rail passenger services are a major component of the well-oiled transportation system that is helping to keep a million fans and families hopping around the country supporting their team and spending their Euros on everything from German beer to cultural trips to places of interest.
Good for the Germans. But what of us here in South Africa? That is the question. Shosholoza Meyl have just launched their new Premier Classe service (which will be profiled in the next issue of SA Rail). Of course there is the luxurious Blue Train, whose future is often the subject of a variety of rumours. The Department of Transport too, with Metrorail under the banner now, have a tremendous amount of work to be done if they anticipate foreigners used to fast, clean, reliable and safe European train services to consider using commuter trains to get to the respective stadia.

And then there are the tourism opportunities for those seeking solice and the opportunity to explore this great land before or after their home nation has suffered defeat and elimination from the tournament. Start planning your reservations now, because you won’t be able to move during those four weeks.

What of rail tourism?

The rail tourism industry in this country has grown into a multi-million Rand industry. In fact the six members of SARTAG (SA Rail Tourism Action Group) who operate tourist trains contracted from Spoornet through Shosholoza Meyl currently generate R26-million annually into the coffers of the parastatel. That’s not including the revenue brought to suppliers, National Parks, museums, places of interest, hotels, various airways etc. and providing employment. And don’t overlook the impact that these organisations have made to a variety of institutions such as schools and associations through their sponsorship programs and donations.
So could somebody (anybody?) from Spoornet please answer and explain to the general public, our readers, and me, if any thought has been given to the ramifications that the recent announcement that no special trains (under which contract passenger trains fall) will be considered from 2007?

These same train operators have been advised that confirmation of whether their trains, booked up to eighteen months in advance, have been approved to run will only be granted THREE days before the scheduled date. Recently some trips have been cancelled at similar short notice, forcing operators to apologise to angry customers, many of whom had made arrangements including travelling, accommodation etc. and booking leave for these week long family excursions. Take pity of these operators who now have to suffer the financial burden that this short cancellation causes and the loss of reputation within the tourism industry. It is claimed that shortage of locomotives and drivers are the reasons behind some of the cancellations, yet Spoornet continues to send locomotives out of the country on lease. Is providing a service to these countries more important than ensuring that we have capacity within our own?

However the media is starting to get wind of these developments and hopefully can help create enough hype for the decision-makers to become aware of the repercussions that are bound to occur. However - do they care? And what of the Government? Will the desire to increase Tourism as a major means to help create employment force the Tourism Ministry to tackle Spoornet head-on? Will the Ministers of Public Enterprise and Tourism stand their ground and resolve this matter with the Minister of Transport? Or will rail tourism be red-carded before the 2010 kick-off and Spoornet be in danger of not qualifying to participate?

I sincerely hope so, because if not rail tourism will fail - and if so I expect the Ministers to be standing at the platform - to thank the Last Passenger.