South Africa

‘Wait and see’: Benoni station still a painful eyesore despite Prasa promise

benoni station

It is heartbreaking to stroll through the Benoni station ruin. In an area that must have been a coffee shop or a bar, piles of rubble and the occasional human faeces, discarded underpants and yellowed shirts, suggested ongoing activity.

“I am not entirely sure how the protectors can miss this,” said the Democratic Alliance’s Mike Waters about the Benoni station.

Prasa in Benoni station ‘design phase’ despite earlier promise

The promised fence to cordon off the station never materialised. Again, the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) prioritised other sites that are operational, said spokesperson Andiswa Makanda.

Prasa said in 2021 that the station would be fixed and restored by the end of the 2023 fiscal year, which would be March this year. With about a month to go, it is clearly not going to happen.

But the state-owned company now says it is in “a design phase” with R7 million earmarked to restore the station to functionality.

“The recovery of the Benoni station will be done in two phases, with phase 1 dealing with refurbishing the station to basic functionality,” said Makanda.

“The design stage and the refurbishment will be completed by the end of October 2024.”

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Boksburg railway bridge collapse

It has taken almost a year for Prasa to begin excavation work at the bridge in Boksburg that collapsed when a gas tanker exploded on Christmas Eve in 2022. Diggers finally started clearing rubble at the end of November last year.

“Following extensive preparatory work, including participatory consultation with key stakeholders, including communities, and the finalisation of statutory processes construction has started,” said Makanda.

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Wait-and-see scenario

The Boksburg railway bridge forms part of the Johannesburg-Germiston-Springs corridor that Prasa has earmarked for recovery. It includes the Benoni area – but Waters reckons it’s a wait-and-see scenario.

“I doubt anything will be on time. We all know how slowly the wheels of government, and particularly an ANC-led government, turns. If at all,” he said.

Only once it is completed, will the company implement its full infrastructure security plan.

“Prasa takes the security of its assets and infrastructure seriously,” said Makanda.

She added that since the implementation of the integrated security plan, the number of incidents has decreased, and no stations or assets have been vandalised.

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Benoni station part of broader programme to revitalise, modernise stations

The work to recover the Benoni station is part of a broader programme to revitalise and modernise stations.

The programme – which is focused on improving the commuter experience at stations – includes the recovery of vandalised or damaged stations and the progress in upgrading and modernising these facilities.

Waters wondered why assets like Benoni station were left to rot first, and then at greater expense, the scramble to fix what never had to be broken in the first place.

Prasa sets target: 80 stations by end of March

But Prasa has big plans.

Makanda said the company planned to design and build new accessible stations that will transform them to commuter destination hubs with retail and government services, for example.

She said the entity had already refurbished 32 stations last year and 58 in total for the budget year. Eighty stations are targeted for completion by the end of March.

Waters said: “Seeing is believing”.