transnetBusiness Times reports that government is proposing a major overhaul of rail operations as it pushes to migrate passengers and freight from road to rail over the next 30 years.  

Chief among the changes is the introduction of wider, "standard-gauge" tracks across most of the national rail network to replace the narrow-gauge tracks now in use.  The plans are spelt out in a draft white paper on rail policy, yet to be released for public comment, which says the move to standard gauge will open freight and passenger rail services to competition.  Government also wants cities to run their own local passenger train services.  At the same time, Transnet is pushing to take control of the 2,200km rail network run by the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), arguing that Prasa's failure to properly maintain the infrastructure poses a risk not only to the operations of Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) but to the economy as a whole.  Transnet says its arguments for taking over the Prasa infrastructure are bolstered by the repeated attempts by the Railway Safety Regulator to withdraw Prasa's operating permit over safety concerns.  The draft white paper also proposes breaking up the monopoly Transnet holds over freight rail, saying competition would increase the volume of freight and lower rail transport costs.  But transport economist Prof Jackie Walters says it would cost far too much to replace all narrow-gauge tracks with standard gauge, though it could be done on the Johannesburg/Durban corridor because of the volumes involved.

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