'Kei Rail has suspended its services after the provincial transport department failed to pay a debt of more than R80 million owed to Transnet Rail Engineering (TRE). The award-winning project, a R117m passenger train, has not been operating for the past two weeks. Now animals are roaming the Mthatha Station and grass has already started growing along the railway.
'Introduced with much fanfare in 2008 by then Transport Minister Jeff Radebe , the Kei Rail service was hailed as the first step in an ambitious plan to return to rail. The train, which has been travelling between Mthatha and East London, was said to have created more than 400 jobs. It has since won two awards.
'In May, it was announced as the best rail passenger operator in Africa at an event held in Johannesburg. And last year the project received the Eastern Cape Premier's Balasela award for high safety standards.
'Provincial Transport Department spokesperson Ncedo Kumbaca admitted that the reason the Kei Rail train was not operating was because the department owed TRE. The Kei Rail project was among many projects that were affected when the Department of Roads and Transport were split. 'The Department of Transport was left with only 31% of the total budget,' he said. Kumbaca confirmed that his department had not paid the outstanding amount of about R84m to TRE, with whom the department has a contract to maintain and supply coaches. Of the amount, only R1.4m is for maintenance.
'Kumbaca said the department would meet with the TRE regarding maintenance of Kei Rail coaches. 'After that meeting, TRE can start doing the maintenance for the department based from the fact that the department owes only around R1.4m for maintenance.' He hoped that shortly after the meeting, the Kei Rail service would be able
'The suspension of the train has brought frustration and uncertainty among employees. Some are sitting at home, hoping for the matter to be resolved. Others have started looking for other jobs. Nafcoc's King Sabata Dalindyebo sub-regional chairperson, Vuyisile Ntlabati, said they were not pleased to learn that Kei Rail had suspended its services.