South Africa

Train Safety

At last – a special unit to protect Cape Town’s trains and rail infrastructure

At last – a special unit to protect Cape Town’s trains and rail infrastructure
A Metrorail official walks passed a charred train carriage in Cape Town. It is one of several carriages damaged in arson attacks in recent weeks. Archived photo: Ashraf Hendrick

The new Rail Enforcement unit for Cape Town’s embattled train systems has finally been deployed – during two different launches over three days. These officers will seek to keep commuters safe and protect state assets which have seen arson attacks, vandalism and cable theft destroy rail infrastructure totalling R500-million since October 2015.

One hundred rail enforcement officers have been deployed to keep an eye on Cape Town’s rail network which has been crippled by vandalism, cable theft and arson.

Monday’s launch – the second one in three days – was held at the Cape Town station that had earlier this month been the target of an arson attempt which occurred at the same time as a meeting between Prasa and Parliament’s portfolio committee on transport over the arson attacks at Metrorail stations was under way.

Monday’s launch, which presented 84 of the 100 officers deployed, recognised key partners involved in the creation of the unit. Partners included the city of Cape Town, the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), said Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for Transport and Urban Development.

The remaining 16 officers were still undergoing training, said Richard Walker, Western Cape regional head of Prasa.

During his speech, Walker incorrectly said 500 officers would be deployed, and while correcting himself, he said “I wish it were 500”.

Herron said the unit was to safeguard commuters and to protect them as they travelled “from where they live to where they work”.

The unit was formed after discussions in February between the city, province and Prasa, with each stakeholder pledging to contribute R16-million to the unit’s establishment and running. In September, however, Herron accused Prasa of not paying its way by then. It has since paid the outstanding money.

Metrorail needs at least 88 train sets to operate in Cape Town to meet current demands, but arson, cable theft and vandalism have halved the number of train sets available to commuters in the city. Herron described the arson as a “relentless campaign to destroy rail infrastructure in the city”.

Herron told Daily Maverick that the new officers will have a split function – the protection of Metrorail assets and infrastructure as well as ensuring commuter safety. These officers will be deployed during train operating hours, added Herron.

The deployment of the rail officers was a “force multiplier to secure our rail network” said Donald Grant, provincial MEC for Transport and Public Works during the launch.

Grant said there were around 150 incidents of arson in the Western Cape since October 2015 at a cost of R500-million. The rail unit was significant and much needed, added Grant.

Train security has made headlines as commuters have been reported to have been thrown off trains, been victims of crime or ended up trapped inside carriages while fires break out.

Walker said the Central Line had been “brought to its knees”.

The Central Line operates between the city centre and the predominantly working-class areas of Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain and Bellville.

Walker said the Central Line only runs at 25% of its capacity at the moment.

On Saturday, Transport Minister Blade Nzimande held a launch of the unit, also at the Cape Town station. He said the province was once the best for commuter rail business, but its performance had declined drastically.

There has also been a decline in passenger patronage as the gap between trains operated and cancelled widens. Train sets available for service have also declined with the highest national average rate of a 13% decline in the Western Cape since the 2015/16 financial year,” Nzimande said. DM






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