Criminals have won: chamber as Cape Town’s busiest train line suspended

11 December 2017 - 16:53
By Aron Hyman And Farren Collins
A Metrorail train in Cape Town.
Image: Bernard Chiguvare via GroundUp A Metrorail train in Cape Town.

“The criminals have won.” That was the sentiment expressed by the Cape Chamber of Commerce after Metrorail’s decision to suspend services on the busy central line in Cape Town on Monday.

“They have successfully sabotaged and killed a vital train commuter service that provided a transport lifeline for the communities most in need of affordable public transport.”

Thousands of commuters were left stranded on Monday with many unable to get to work after Metrorail claimed that "months of sustained vandalism" in the form cable theft and destruction of critical infrastructure forced them to suspend services on Cape Town’s busiest train line.

Chamber president Janine Myburgh said the time had come to ban the export of scrap copper and to “treat metal theft as a serious crime”.

"If we don't take drastic steps like this we will lose the whole commuter rail service‚" she said.

City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for transport and urban development Brett Herron said that he was not surprised at the collapse in Metrorail’s services.

Herron said that over the past financial year Metrorail had lost 2.3 million passenger trips and that those commuters had all been diverted to the road network‚ increasing peak hour commutes on the busiest roads in Cape Town from two hours to four hours spent in traffic a day.

“If you think about the number of trains that got burnt recently inside Cape Town Train Station under guard by security guards. How does that happen? There is something really worrying about this pattern about a fleet that is being diminished and attacked‚” he said.

“What we can expect is that these are things that are going to happen more frequently unless we find an intervention.”

Thousands of commuters who would normally use Metrorail to go home streamed to Cape Town taxi rank where long lines were already forming just before the peak hour commute on Monday afternoon.

Sindiswa Gqweta is one of them and she found out with dread on Monday morning that no trains were coming to pick her up in Khayelitsha.

"I was sitting there waiting for the train‚ and there were no trains coming. I waited for about an hour then I decided to go because I was going to be late for work‚" she said.

She said that the return trip in a taxi costs her R50 between her home in Macassar and Sea Point where she works.

Juanita James said she stopped using trains a year ago when they frequently started coming late and being cancelled.

"I've started only using a taxi. The traffic on the roads have started increasing and that makes us very late at work and it can take two hours to get to work‚" she said.

According to the ANC in the Western Cape Metrorail has lost up to 101 carriages to arson and vandalism since October 2015‚ resulting in the transporter operating at 60% of its capacity.

The party called on Metrorail to be sensitive to the fact that between 400‚000 and 700‚000 people used trains daily in the province and voiced their concern over the implications the suspension had for jobs and incomes.

Metrorail regional manager Richard Walker said that technical teams were doing repairs under armed escort to try to get services ready to resume on Tuesday.

“We regret that our commuters once again have to suffer as a result of selfish criminal agendas and will do our utmost to restore services by tomorrow‚” he said.