South Africa


Cape Town commuters appear to have deserted Metrorail, leaving platforms and carriages empty

Last week Thursday, no one was staffing the defaulters’ desk at Cape Town’s main train station. (Photo: Tariro Washinyira)

Another year at best before Cape Town Central line resumes service to Khayelitsha.

First published by GroundUp.

It is depressing these days to take the train from Rondebosch to Cape Town. On Thursday last week, there was one other person on the platform.

We bought tickets at noon. The train departed over two hours later.

At Cape Town station the platforms were deserted except for cleaners and some security guards. Billboard advertisements have vanished from the walls. The platform displays show only the time of day instead of information on where the next train is leaving from.

Staff at the information desk could tell us when the next train to Fish Hoek was leaving but didn’t know from which platform. No one was bothering to staff the defaulters’ desk for people to pay ticket fines.

We found a few commuters hanging around Cape Town station. They complained that since Metrorail has stopped selling weekly or monthly tickets, buying daily tickets is costly. They also complained about the constant changing of platforms.

While we were there, the train to Fish Hoek changed from platform 5 to 6 and then back again to 5.

Our carriage on the 3pm train to Rondebosch had only about 15 people; three more boarded at Salt River.

“I used to pay R50 a week but now it has almost doubled, and the trains are never on time. When you get to the station, they tell you there are no trains or the train is delayed,” said a health worker at a Brooklyn facility.

He said he has commuted by train for 20 years and the trains used to be full of people. He has now given up waiting for a train at Maitland as they are so few and far between.

“People are frustrated and take their anger out on trains. It is also dangerous to be on the train now. They [even] rob people during the day,” he said.

Metrorail spokesperson in the Western Cape Riana Scott continues to try to give helpful answers to our questions despite the collapse all around her. She explained that weekly and monthly tickets have been stopped in all Metrorail regions and will only be restarted once an order to do so is made.

Scott said that Metrorail timetables are posted on “with any deviations communicated via social media and station announcements”.

But this website is built on a free platform, with a Mexican domain. The links to the timetables and route maps take you to Google Drive links, and these have not been updated since September 2020. There is no indication that this is an official website. The official Twitter account tells commuters that they should go to (hardly an official site) for timetables. This is what you see at this site:

A screenshot of the website users are directed to from Metrorail’s official Twitter account. (Photo: Supplied by GroundUp)

On 8 March, Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula, responding to GroundUp’s questions, said that the Central Line would be operational by the end of 2021. This message was reiterated on 31 March by Prasa’s Chairperson Leonard Ramatlakane. Ramatlakane was more ambitious speaking to SABC on 9 June, saying that the line would be operational by November 2021. Scott told us that the Central Line will now be operational by May 2022. In eleven days, six months have been added to the Central Line’s reopening schedule.

Scott said that currently, 151 trains operate daily in the Cape Town region (one train is denoted by a train number on a timetable). Before the hard lockdown the region operated 273 trains per day.

The Central Line, which serves the largest portion of Cape Town’s population, was not operating at this point, having closed in 2019.

Scott said that since the lockdown last year with people now working remotely, revised shifts, alternate days for scholars, a reduced workforce, and compliance with Covid-19 restrictions, had all contributed to lower passenger levels on all modes of public transport. But we have been taking busses and taxis the past week and they are incomparably busier than the trains. DM


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All Comments 15

  • It’s sad that the service has declined so much. When I first moved to Cape Town in 2007 taking the train was affordable and relatively easy. Sure it wasn’t like clockwork, but you could expect the train to arrive within a 10 minute window. By 2016 I was experiencing regular delays of 1-2 hours on what should have been a 20 minute trip. Thankfully my employer was understanding and I made up the hours as I could. When an employer within 45 minutes walking distance offered me a job (should have been 5 minutes on the train every morning), I took it and started walking to work each day.

    I also remember many a pleasant snooze on the way home and accidentally missing my stop, despite the fact that the trains were seen as “unsafe”.

  • Time for Andre de Ruiter 2 , to step in …lets face it …A good entrepreneurial manager will turn this abyss around in a few months …. but hey man – they do not want us whiteys to help them
    What a shame !!!

  • Minister of Trance. He’s on another planet, or dealing with an out of body experience. The only happy people are the taxi owners, in other words, disorganized crime. Metrorail, Prasa, Transnet, the DoT… what a disheveled, shameful bunch of losers.

  • I remember Fikile Mbalula on Carte Blanche a couple of months ago, didn’t seem interested at all about Western Cape transport. If I remember he was hiring youngsters to be watchdogs to prevent the rampant theft. Time to turn this over to Municipal Government, with a full transfer of funds for the Local Government to provide transport and security for “their people” to safely travel on time and in budget.

  • Progress in getting Prasa services back and running has certainly been slow – but there are signs here and there. Brand new rolling stock was transferred to Cape Town earlier this year (though it is still not operational) and there are videos on Youtube of track renewal being done on the Cape Town network. I think we are just now realising how poorly our rail systems have been run the past. We have a very long climb to get out of the hole that has been dug by corruption and mismanagement. It definitely does seem like an obvious step to allow the regional governments to take over control of their local rail services. As far as I can see that is how things are done internationally. Prasa should have proved to everyone by now how ineffective their operations are and I believe their local direct control should be reduced dramatically. Imagine if the Gautrain operator could run all local rail services in Gauteng and the Cape Town city could get a PPP to run the Metrorail there? Cape Town might even one day get a rail service to the airport!

  • Safe and reliable public transport is the lifeblood of first world economies. Until we get our rail network up and running we can whistle Dixie for real economic recovery. Until workers can get to their places of employment, joblessness will remain, leading to crime and eventually anarchy. Transportation using the rail networks will cut down carbon emissions, reduce the cost of road infrastructure ( eliminating the need for tolls) save lives and reduce congestion on our already overcrowded roads….it’s a no brainer!

    • Agreed re “no-brainer”. Unfortunately, those that run it do not have any nor care one jot about it other than “where is the trough”.

    • And some of these geniuses including Cyril, keep batting on about the 4th industrial revolution when what remains of the first one is being destroyed as they speak (and speak and speak)
      Delusional or just plain stupid, or both.

  • PRASA seems to be run by arrogant individuals, who feel it is beneath their dignity to respond to a
    community’s outcry, over the closure of a century+-old pedestrian right of way, which predates the
    existence of rail in Muizenberg.

    These gurus have welded closed the pedestrian crossing in York Rd, on the grounds that it is, basically, the community’s “fault” that the garage gate-type motors, which operate these gates, either get stolen or vandalised. IF PRASA actually built adequate housings for said motors,
    this abuse is obviously, less likely to occur. Furthermore, their “In line with Railway Safety Regulations” line is totally laughable. There has been “the vagrants’ gateway” (a torn-open section of palisade fencing), not more than a couple of metres from the level crossing, for YEARS, without PRASA’s safety officials troubling themselves at all as far as closing same, a la spouted Regs.
    So…..we, the locals and visitors to our town, are expected to take dirty, dangerous,
    and difficult detours (2 options) each of about half a k’, instead of a 12 mt. walk across a pedestrian crossing. One option is via the subway on the Station. This can only be accessed via the Main Rd., as the gates off the platforms to York Rd are locked. The subway is inaccessible to the elderly, handicapped or prams…apart from dangerous. The alternative is the steep hill on Atlantic Rd…..’nuff said.
    Businesses have suffered 40% decline in trade. Six+ weeks on…..PRASA doesn’t care…AT ALL!

  • Further Comment: we have challenged, by email, Mr Walker, the Western Cape PRASA Supremo, to
    meet the Community, as soon as possible, but at a time and date of his choice, to self-propel himself (in
    a bog-standard wheelchair and only using his hands, no feet allowed) from next to the closed level crossing, at Surf Shack on the lower side, to The Striped Horse, on the upper side, using whichever of the
    two routes he is quite happy embracing as reasonable alternatives to PRASA fixing the pedestrian crossing. (This job probably has a max tag of twenty grand to it. The motors at normal retail are said to be about five grand each and then some proper brick housings. How much can that really be, if no kickbacks are involved?)

    It is OBVIOUS that Mr Walker cannot use the Subway, so it will have to be Atlantic Road, via “Bridget”,
    Muizenberg’s Famous Truck-eating Bridge. He will need to squeeze pass the vagrants’ “residences” on the pavement, and maintain his, hand-powered, momentum, up the steep hill to the Main Road. From
    there, he will proceed southwards to York Road to his final destination, a total distance of nearly half a k’.

    1. If he actually DOES take up the Challenge and manages to complete it, will he still consider the route
    a reasonable alternative for the frail, elderly or handicapped, reliant on wheelchairs or “walkers”?
    2. If he ignores the Challenge, or refuses to participate, doesn’t that tell you everything you need to

  • Well, well, well, let’s go out and spend billions on new trains and pocket more billions and then have the new trains run on rails that aren’t there. As the staff couldn’t care less about anything they won’t care where the trains are going or who they are supposed to be carrying. Isn’t that exactly why we’re in such a hole now. But of course the staff must be paid on time and get annual increases.

  • At the time that the ANC was handed control of the newly democratic South Africa, the railways functioned well (it made the news if a train was cancelled), electricity supplies were reliable, taps provided uninterrupted and clean water, schools were delivering educated children and hospitals were always in a good state of repair with motivated and caring staff. Then they took over and implemented the National Democratic Revolution…………. Unfortunately, there’s no fixing bad ideology.

  • Of all the crimes committed by this cANCerous criminal gang the destruction of the rail network and the services it offered is the greatest.
    Not only the mismanagement and theft but the hidden cost of depriving citizens of affordable, safe public transport, the hidden cost of the consequent destruction of the road network as cargo which should be railed is road hauled by ever increasing numbers of heavy vehicles. The curse of the minibus taxis which are driven by persons with no respect for the rules of the road or other road users. The costs, economic and human, of the accidents these vehicles both heavy and light and their drivers cause.
    Then there are the lost skills of the many artisans previously trained by “The Railways” , skills which should have been transferred to a younger generation to enable them to earn a living while performing a useful service to the country.
    160 years of development destroyed, I believe, beyond repair.
    The Eskom debacle pales into insignificance by comparison.

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