Head-on collision of views over dismal state of Cape Town's trains

27 September 2018 - 08:58 By Groundup And Timeslive
Fire fighters put out fire on a Metro Rail train in Booysens in this July file photo.
Fire fighters put out fire on a Metro Rail train in Booysens in this July file photo.

Less than half the number of trains it needs‚ no CCTV cameras at stations‚ little or no access control and an administrative shambles.

These were just some of the shortcomings of the commuter rail system in Cape Town‚ a senior police officer told MPs on Wednesday.

But the Department of Transport says there is no emergency‚ insisting “interventions” by minister Blade Nzimande will fix the problems.

After the latest in a string of fires blamed on arsonists‚ Metrorail in the Western Cape has only 42 trains left of the 88 it needs to operate its timetable. Five carriages were set alight at the weekend near Paarl.

Activist group #UniteBehind has called on the Passenger Rail Agency of SA to allow the use of September monthly tickets in October‚ due to the poor train service‚ and is planning a mass protest for Thursday October 4.

Spokesman Matthew Hirsch said the commuter rail system should be declared a national disaster so that funds could be released to tackle its problems.

Brigadier Bonginkosi Solucutho told parliament’s community safety committee on Wednesday that security was a significant factor in the rail service’s shortcomings‚ and CCTV cameras on stations were not seen as a priority by Prasa.

“Cameras are off since 2015. On platforms there are no cameras‚” he said.

Other challenges which hindered police work included a lack of fencing and little or no access control to stations; no communication from Prasa to commuters about cancellations and delays; and overcrowding as a result of shorter trains.

“Power failures‚ weather conditions and commuters’ behaviour make policing difficult‚” he said‚ showing MPs a video of passengers on Cape Town’s central line — the city’s busiest — “surfing” on the train and standing in doorways.

Solucutho said other problems included:

- About half of the Metrorail security guards operated without uniforms;

- Security officers were not briefed and deployed jointly with the police;

- Contract security guards were not consistently paid;

- Ticket offices were not open when trains were running;

- There was limited communication between Metrorail/Prasa and Transnet operational rooms about train fires‚ which led to long delays in cutting off electricity before flames could be tackled;

- Standby technicians were not centralised;

- Firefighting equipment was not readily available at all stations; and

- Some trains had no windows‚ seats or lights.

Department of Transport spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi said Prasa had a recovery plan‚ dubbed Get on Track‚ to address the commuter network’s decline.

But the United National Transport Union said it was preparing an urgent high court application to force Prasa and the government to protect rail employees and commuters.

General secretary Steve Harris said the deterioration in safety and security on trains meant the right to life documented in the Bill of Rights was being “blatantly ignored”.