Illegal scrap dealers in firing line as rail theft unit counts its successes

09 January 2019 - 16:28 By TIMESLIVE
The newly established rail enforcement unit in Cape Town has already made 36 arrests. With less crime and vandalism, the city says, there will be fewer delays and cancellations, and commuters will opt for trains rather than motor vehicles.
The newly established rail enforcement unit in Cape Town has already made 36 arrests. With less crime and vandalism, the city says, there will be fewer delays and cancellations, and commuters will opt for trains rather than motor vehicles.
Image: Mark Makela/Getty Images/AFP

In its first two months, the rail enforcement unit in Cape Town has confiscated 379,5m of cable and 800kg of railway signal cable. Now the city is setting its sights on the scrap dealers who buy the stolen metal.

The unit was launched by the national transport ministry in October 2018. The city's mayoral office, the Western Cape transport department and Metrorail said on Wednesday the unit was paying off already.

"Its impact on the improved safety of Metrorail commuters and rail infrastructure can be observed in numerous arrests and the recovery of stolen infrastructure," said a joint statement.

The unit adds an additional 100 law enforcement officers to the existing security personnel in meeting Metrorail’s security challenges. These include sustained attacks on rail infrastructure and rolling stock assets, the sabotage of the urban rail network, and criminals targeting commuters and rail employees.

Executive mayor Dan Plato said: "The unit's successes to date give me good reason to believe that this unit will assist us in stabilising the urban rail service over the next few months. With less crime and vandalism, we can expect fewer delays and cancellations, and with that we can expect more commuters opting for trains as opposed to road-based transport."

The authorities said the unit had so far conducted 332 inspections of hotspot areas and scrapyards.

Its personnel had made 36 arrests on a range of charges including assault, possession of drugs and stolen property, malicious damage to property and theft, and had confiscated contraband and suspected stolen goods, including 21 cellphones, two laptops, drugs and alcohol.

At least six of the arrests were made in terms of Section 18 of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act of 2015, which makes provision for a person convicted of tampering with or damaging essential infrastructure to be jailed for up to 30 years.

"With enforcement success on track, the next priority should be closing down non-compliant scrap dealers and lobbying for legislative changes to permit only traceable electronic payment methods. The current practice of cash-for-copper-no-questions-asked encourages illegal and illicit scrap dealing," said Metrorail Western Cape’s regional manager Richard Walker.

The promulgation of two enabling laws in the fight against metal theft (the CMAA and the amended Second Hand Goods Act), in addition to the deployment of technology and forensic resources, has enabled the Passenger Rail Authority to secure 198 offenders in custody and successfully prosecute 17 offenders.

"When we launched this initiative our intention was to increase security on our rail network as the situation had reached dire straits with arson, vandalism, cable theft and violent crime becoming commonplace. An intervention was urgently required and through effective intergovernmental co-operation we were able to get the REU off the ground. The initial results and arrests are testament to the initiative’s effectiveness and our officers’ commitment on the ground," said the Western Cape transport minister Donald Grant.

Illicit and suspicious activity may be reported via the Metrorail Protection Services hotline on 021-449-4336, the SAPS crime tip-off line 0860 10111 086-001-0111 or Crimeline via SMS to 32211.

Rewards of up to R25,000 are payable for information leading to a successful conviction.


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