Stunning successes for Cape Town's 'rail enforcers' in first 100 days

14 February 2019 - 15:37 By PHILANI NOMBEMBE
Cape Town's rail enforcement unit made 309 arrests in its first 100 days and secured 26 convictions. It recovered R22m in stolen goods including hundreds of metres of cabling and dangerous weapons in the course of 11,041 searches it conducted.
Cape Town's rail enforcement unit made 309 arrests in its first 100 days and secured 26 convictions. It recovered R22m in stolen goods including hundreds of metres of cabling and dangerous weapons in the course of 11,041 searches it conducted.
Image: Peter Savage

The first 100 days of Cape Town's rail enforcement unit were a resounding success, its funders said on Thursday.

Transport minister Blade Ndzimande launched the unit, funded by the city of Cape Town, the provincial government and Metrorail, in October to curb metal theft and crime in the railway network. More than 200 carriages have been set alight across the country since 2013.

Train trips in the Cape Town metro have dropped by more than half in the past four years and passengers have regularly been left stranded, contributing to the gridlocked state of Cape Town's roads.

Since 2015, 214 train carriages have been set alight in SA in apparent arson attacks. Many of these incidents happened in Cape Town. But who is responsible? What is their motivation? And how has Prasa responded? We try to find out who is turning Cape Town’s railways into a fiery hell.

Richard Walker, the head of Metrorail in the Western Cape, says the unit – working hand-in-hand with the police rapid rail response unit – made 309 arrests in its first 100 days of existence.

Walker said goods worth more than R22m had been recovered and 26 convictions had been secured. The cost of fixing damage caused by arsonists was more than R500m.

Western Cape head of Metrorail Richard Walker takes a train ride with the rail enforcement unit
Western Cape head of Metrorail Richard Walker takes a train ride with the rail enforcement unit
Image: Philani Nombembe

Walker said the unit had participated in 133 joint operations and made 66 arrests. It "confiscated hundreds of metres of cabling, dangerous weapons and other items in the course of 11,041 searches conducted".

He added: “We can use see the unit’s force-multiplying effect clearly, proving our contention that the more law enforcement agencies collaborate, the better crime is addressed and order restored on trains" said Walker.

"Anecdotal commuter reaction to date has varied; some were unaware of the unit’s existence while others expected to find a security presence in every carriage of every train.

"Our collective challenge is to make security action so visible and impactful that commuters are reassured that their safety is top priority for all law enforcers."

Members of Cape Town's rail enforcement unit meet before going on patrol
Members of Cape Town's rail enforcement unit meet before going on patrol
Image: Philani Nombembe

Western Cape transport MEC Donald Grant said rampant violent crime, vandalism, arson and theft had crippled the rail network.

Four years ago, Metrorail operated about 620,000 passenger trips daily but the figure was now fewer than 300,000. Grant said Metrorail was operating with only 48 train sets and there was an urgent need to increase the fleet to 60.

The Cape Town mayoral committee member for transport, Felicity Purchase, said: "It doesn’t often happen that all three spheres of government get to collaborate in this fashion, and to also record successes that we've seen during the past three months.

"This is a very important milestone for all of us, from the leadership in government to the officials and officers who form part of this unit."



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