South Africa


Crumbling Philippi station on Cape Town’s Central Line highlights Prasa’s enormous challenges

Crumbling Philippi station on Cape Town’s Central Line highlights Prasa’s enormous challenges
A girl walks on the disused Prasa train tracks in Philippi, Cape Town, where people have now started to occupy the rail tracks. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula recently said he hoped the Central Line in Cape Town would be fully operational by July. But Philippi station, a key station on the dysfunctional line, is a reminder of the issues that need to be addressed: vandalism, theft and security.

From the outside, Philippi train station in Cape Town is an example of many public transport interchanges across the nation: it’s a hive of activity, with taxis everywhere and people selling everything from food to furniture. But inside the station, it is clear that it requires a massive amount of work before it can become operational again. 

The station is on Cape Town’s Central Line, which came to a halt in November 2019 after sustained vandalism and theft of essential infrastructure belonging to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). 

During the Covid-19 lockdown, vandalism and theft of infrastructure worsened, but another problem arose: many homeless people started living on the disused train tracks. 

The rail agency and Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula are on a mission to get the Central Line running by July. During his State of the Nation Address in 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced R1.4-billion would be allocated to fixing the Central Line.

At a media briefing on Monday, 17 January, in Cape Town, Mbalula said: “I have no doubt that we will meet the deadline to return the Central Line to full service by the end of July 2022,” while the agency continues with its resignalling project. This project’s costs are now just under R2-billion, and are expected to rise to R2.5-billion

A woman carrying her baby on her back in an informal settlement on the Philippi train tracks in Cape Town. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Shacks on the railway line in Philippi on Cape Town’s Central Line. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

On Thursday, Prasa subsidiary Metrorail took journalists on an information session to explain how the new People’s Train works and to view the agency’s service resumption and construction efforts across the Central Line. 

The media contingent took the People’s Train to Fish Hoek station before getting a shuttle service to Philippi on the Cape Flats. 

The Philippi station connects the Chris Hani (Khayelitsha) and Kapteinsklip (Mitchells Plain) trains to the Cape Town station. 

In June 2019, Daily Maverick reported that Mbalula had to get out of a train as it could not operate further than Philippi because of delays over a pantograph hook-up line, two people being struck by trains at a nearby station, and because the station had no electricity.

A view of the disused Philippi station in Cape Town. Due to the trains no longer running, people have started to occupy the rail reserve, including the disused train tracks. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

A schoolgirl walks on the disused Prasa train tracks in Philippi, Cape Town, on 27 January 2022. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

A woman walks in an informal settlement in Philippi, Cape Town, which is situated on the disused train tracks. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

The informal settlement on the Philippi train tracks in Cape Town. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

State of Philippi station

Now the station is empty, littered with broken glass and used as a thoroughfare by communities. 

In some places the train tracks are barely visible, covered by the zinc structures of those living there. In February, Daily Maverick reported on the informal settlement built on the disused tracks.  

Inside the station, Prasa pantograph lines have turned brown, sticking out against the bright silver zinc structures. 

“It’s the very people who are settled here now that don’t have an option for mass movement, for cheap mass transportation,” said Nana Zenani, the acting spokesperson for Metrorail in the Western Cape. She described Philippi station as looking like a “war zone”. 

Community member and Prasa volunteer Nombulelo Mgidlana has lived in Philippi for the past 10 years. She is part of the People’s Responsibility Programme (PR2P), which sees up to 5,000 volunteers nationwide work with Prasa security and police to monitor train stations across the country.  “The communities look after the stations, they are our eyes and ears,” said Zenani. 

Mgidlana said, “[Criminals] are vandalising the stations, there are lots of skollies [criminals] working.”  

Mgidlana added that people needed the Central Line trains to operate again, because, “People are suffering. They get taxis, but the taxis are very expensive… The trains are much better.” She told Daily Maverick  a single taxi trip between Philippi and the Cape Town CBD costs R23, while a monthly train ticket costs R105. 

A Prasa Protection Services security walks through a stairway at the Philippi train station on the Central Line in Cape Town on 27 January 2022. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

A Prasa Protection Services security officer fist-bumps a child in Phillipi on 27 January 2022. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

A Prasa Protection Services security official walks in an informal settlement in Philippi, Cape Town, on 27 January 2022. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

A woman and a Prasa Protection Services security official walk in an informal settlement on the Philippi station in Cape Town. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Security issues at Philippi

Journalists at Philippi station were told that Prasa security personnel were targeted by criminals for their bulletproof vests, cellphones, firearms and other possessions.  

It is not only in Philippi that people are occupying the train tracks. Homeless people are living on the railway tracks in Langa – also on the Central Line – and Prasa has sought an eviction order from the Western Cape High Court. 

Following an extension request in November 2021, Prasa has been given until June to move occupiers from Langa to a new site in Eerste River on the city’s outskirts. DM



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Charles Parr says:

    Given the absolute mess that I see there, they definitely have the wrong man to be Mr Fix-It considering his track record. My goodness, this country has been allowed to go to the dogs under the stewardship of the useless ANC cadres.

  • Chris van Heusden says:

    Yes, PRASA is a cock-up. Yes, the government has allowed unimaginable devastation of public infrastructure. I get all the bad things the government / ANC has done (not done??). My question is this:

    What sane person looks at a railway line and thinks to themselves: Hey- that looks like an epic place to build my shack!

  • Bruce MacDonald says:

    What, precisely, are the Prasa Protection Services staff being paid to do? Walk around the place? Don’t see a lot of protecting going on . . .

    • Alan Paterson says:

      They are afraid of infringing individual human rights under the Constitution. The right to feel despair after the long years of ANC rule.

  • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

    And this is how a world class commuter service in a world class city becomes just another African disaster. Courtesy of the anc and cadre deployment.

  • Gerrit Marais says:

    Challenges, challenges, challenges. All you hear. I want to vomit every time I hear it. It is only a challenge when you are simply incompetent to perform the tasks and duties you were supposedly appointed for.

  • Pieter Van der Walt says:

    Maybe develop a course to help Mr. Fixit?
    Chapter one: Prevention is better than cure
    Chapter 2: A stitch in time saves nine
    Chapter 3: Nothing good happens by itself. You have to make it happen
    Chapter 5: Simple mathematics: Poor Performance + Good Excuse = Poor Performance

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