President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday that government was investing a lot of money to improve the way people travel, adding that the launch of the new Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) trains marked the beginning of a 20-year modernisation programme.

“We are investing R51 billion on buying new trains and R4 billion on new hybrid locomotives. All in all, the investment programme towards the modernisation of passenger rail infrastructure and services totals R173 billion,” Zuma said.

“The programme focuses on station and depot modernisation, upgrading of signalling and overhead lines, railway tracks and platform correction. It is a worthwhile investment on infrastructure that will improve the lives of our people and which will also last for many decades.”

Zuma was speaking at the launch of the northern Corridor of the Metro Rail Commercialised Passenger Train, affectionately known as The People’s Train, in Pretoria on Tuesday.

He was accompanied by transport minister Joe Maswanganyi, Gauteng transport MEC Ismail Vadi, community safety MEC Sizakele Nkosi​​-Malobane, and Prasa representatives.

The project is part of the bigger plan by Prasa to roll out of the train system of the future in order to modernise and improve passenger travel experience in South Africa after 40 years of under investment which has resulted in old and unreliable trains and rail infrastructure.

Prasa’s new project would offer faster travel times, reliable service, improved security with CCTV cameras and a fully air-conditioned train.

This comes after Prasa entered into a contract with the Gibela Rail Transport Consortium in 2013, valued at R59 billion, to deliver 600 new train-sets, with 580 to be produced locally and 20 manufactured in Brazil.

As part of this programme, the passenger rail infrastructure and systems will also be upgraded over a period ahead. Passengers travelling between Pretoria and Piennarspoort would now travel using the new state-of-the-art trains.

Zuma said the investment in the modernisation programme would ensure that government changes the rail landscape of the country and that the launch was part of the programme of building and renewing infrastructure.

“We made a commitment as government to maintain road infrastructure, upgrade rail infrastructure and services and also to build a reliable public transportation service. This is aimed at improving the quality of life of our people by developing accessible, safe and modern public transport in the country,” Zuma said.

“We already have a large network of infrastructure to build on. Government, through Prasa owns 2,280 kilometres of South Africa’s rail network and uses 22,000 kilometres of rail track under the control of Transnet.

Prasa has 585 train stations and a total fleet of 4,735 coaches, with an overall staff complement of 18,207.

Zuma also appealed to commuters to handle the trains with care and look after them, saying that acts of vandalism and serious crimes such as the burning of trains were totally unacceptable.