Sand removal a slow process

The railway tracks after the sand was removed in recent weeks.

There is movement of the railway tracks between Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town but sadly it does not involve a train.

The stretch between Fish Hoek, Sunny Cove, Glencairn and Simon’s Town, similar to Baden Powell Drive, is no stranger to the gushing south easter and sand on the tracks and road has been a long-standing issue.

In recent weeks, diggers could be seen scooping sand from the tracks and surrounding areas and according to Metrorail spokeswoman, Riana Scott, contractors are halfway through removing beach sand on the southern line.

Engineers used three types of earth-moving machinery to clear the sand to a point while the remaining sand will be removed manually over the upcoming weeks.

However, Ms Scott could not say when work would be completed and by when the line would be fully operational.

Since July last year commuters have had to use a bus service to commute between the four stations as the retaining wall, which has since been rebuilt, had collapsed resulting in a sand build-up (“Solution to clear sand from tracks in the pipeline,” Echo, February 8).

Ms Scott added that the False Bay coastline was constantly plagued by winds and Metrorail must regularly clear sand off the tracks as soon as it starts building up.

To date, conventional methods of sending teams to manually remove the sand have not been effective and the appointment of a contractor and use of machinery is a positive first step but not the solution in preventing a recurrence of sand build-up.

Metrorail’s engineering services manager, Raymond Maseko, from the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), has a three-year plan.

The maintenance programme, made possible by the acquisition of machinery, will ensure that there are no problems in the future.

He said sand would be cleared off the tracks as soon as it built up.

Coupled with that, he explained, wass the Glencairn Coastal Project, a collaboration between Metrorail, the City of Cape Town and the provincial government.

This project will deal more effectively with the issue of sand build-up and the rehabilitation of the Simon’s Town to Fish Hoek line and said they were currently awaiting the results of an environmental impact assessment report.

And although it seems like there is light at the end of the tunnel, Leslie van Minnen, chairman of the Rail Commuter Action Group (RCAG), said there was no long-term solution to remove the sand and that the viability of the line should be investigated.

“If there was a long-term solution I am sure those in the know would have provided the answers years ago,” he said.

He said the line has operated for more than 100 years and sand on the tracks has been a problem since day one.

The line may remain clear for the winter months but as soon as the south easter resumes in summer, the situation will be repeated.

“One can’t beat Mother Nature,” he said.

He added that one needs to look at the costs involved in operating the line and the train in its totality and said assuming a cost analysis has been done, he was convinced that the line was “bleeding money” as in recent years it had been closed for extended periods of time, the cost to remove sand was and will be an annual expense, the number of passenger have reduced over the years, little or no freight is carried on the said line and most, if not all goods, are carried to either the navy or private businesses by road, school holidays and navy leave periods result in less passenger use and trains travelling after peak hour are virtually empty.

He said Prasa and Metrorail should be requested to disclose the full cost of operating the line and the total income generated from ticket sales.

“Only then will one be able to determine the viability and cost effectiveness of re-opening the service,” he said.

However, a Facebook post on the Simon’s Town community page indicated that many residents rely on the service, especially domestic workers who make their way from Capricorn and Vrygrond to Simon’s Town

Mr Van Minnen said should Prasa attempt to open the line after removal of the sand the RCAG will apply to the Rail Safety Regulator to issue a directive for a cessation of operations until the lack of safety fencing along part of the line has been addressed.

“It is the duty of Prasa and Metrorail to secure their operating environment,” he said.