Cape Town – Two trains were set alight and shops looted at Cape Town station on Monday night, when commuters went on the rampage in reaction to lengthy delays.
“Two trains are on fire. At this stage there are no injuries,” said City of Cape Town fire and rescue spokesperson Theo Layne.
Police were on the scene and helping to keep protesters at bay while the firefighters tried to douse the flames.
He said the station was not on fire, as some people had tweeted. The smoke was so thick that firefighters had called a truck with special breathing equipment to the scene.
The chaos started early in the evening, when passengers became increasingly irate over lengthy delays, which Metrorail attributed to an overloaded electrical system.
By 21:00, the concourse was littered with glass and broken dustbins that had been thrown in a rage.
Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott explained that Metrorail had four 11kV power feeds available to operate the train service.
Between 15:00 and 19:00, two of the four feeds were unavailable. The two remaining ones were overloaded, the electricity supply tripped, and trains all over the network were halted, some for over two hours.
The trouble started while technicians were working on the problem.
“Hundreds of irate customers converged at Cape Town Station and some shops were damaged and looted,” said Scott.
Golden Arrow was allowing Metrorail’s weekly and monthly ticket holders to use its bus service to get home. It would keep operating until all commuters had been ferried out.
Metrorail regional manager Richard Walker apologised to customers, but criticised those who caused the damage.
“We acknowledge that commuters were aggrieved, but no amount of inconvenience warrants such behaviour.”
Surveillance footage would be studied to open cases of malicious damage to property. Technicians restored power at 20:52 and Metrorail planned to start operating again.
Police fired rubber bullets at the angry commuters who tried to break in for a loot at a nearby KFC and McDonald’s. They managed to disperse the angry crowd to the rainy streets and cordoned off the station and nearby stores.
Firefighters on the scene also managed to contain the fire before it could spread to other stores connected to the station.
One commuter that, instead of being at home with their families, they were now stuck in the rain.
“These people don’t take us serious. How are we supposed to go home? Our kids are waiting for us, broer. It’s about 10 [pm] you can see for yourself,” said one train commuter who refused to give his name.