MPs get a taste of pain endured by train commuters

22 June 2018 - 12:28 By Petru Saal
Image: Bernard Chiguvare via GroundUp

Members of Parliament experienced first-hand on Friday the broken windows‚ delays and fear of crime that haunt commuters daily aboard trains in Cape Town.

"The lady at the ticket station couldn't tell us how long the delay would be. There were people waiting with no places to sit. On the train itself there were no windows. You really felt unsafe in the freezing cold in winter‚" said DA MP Manny de Freitas.

He was speaking after a train journey from Nyanga train station to Cape Town station with fellow MP Zakhele Mbhele and DA Western Cape metro chairperson Grant Twigg.

De Freitas said none of the electronic signage was in a working condition.

Twigg said there was no security on the train since the group left Nyanga station.

Metrorail passenger trains have earned a bad reputation in the city‚ thanks to repeated acts of vandalism‚ arson‚ delays and being targeted by criminals.

Three railway carriages worth millions of rands were set alight at Steenberg Railway Station on Monday. One person died when a train was torched on May 30. A third train was damaged by fire on May 22 in Cape Town.

De Freitas said he would meet board members of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) to challenge them to undertake a journey and experience the conditions endured by passengers.

Jean-Pierre Smith‚ the city's mayco member for safety and security‚ said the priority was to make trains safer for commuters.

"A big part of the crisis is the safety issue. There are multiple issues where government drops the ball and we as the City have to pick it up‚" he said. "The City has recently taken a decision to explore whether we can take over the train service. We need to make it safer‚ that is one thing that we can immediately do."

He said law enforcement officers were being recruited to patrol platforms‚ CCTV coverage was being improved and facial recognition was being introduced to make identifying suspects easier.

Mbhele said dedicated railway police needed to be deployed at stations.

Prasa‚ the city and provincial department of transport and public works signed an agreement in April‚ dedicating R16-million each towards upgrading safety at train stations.

De Freitas outlined a proposed railway safety plan in a presentation to the Competition Commission on Thursday. He said there had been a considerable decrease in rail passenger numbers over the past decade‚ which in turn led to increased congestion on the roads.