Train journey nightmare mars school memories

2017-12-21 06:00
opinionLukhanyo Mangona

opinionLukhanyo Mangona

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When were young and in primary school, we would be given annoying and ridiculous tasks, which were ostensibly meant to test our writing skills.

For instance, one of these included compositions like “My journey by train”.

It was annoying and ridiculous because growing up in the Eastern Cape villages, chances of us children taking that journey were almost non-existent.

With limited research resources at our disposal, save for those who have been to the big cities, we had to conjure up imaginary stories of our supposed experiences.

These childhood musings came flooding back in my memory bank on Thursday, 7th December 2017.

Cape Town was scorching hot that day, at 42 degrees centigrade!

On this day I had a planned meeting with a fellow who is also in my line of work. The meeting was scheduled for 2pm in Observatory.

As a struggling entrepreneurs(if you can call me that), I have come to master the art of jealously guarding time and cannot afford to be generous with expenses. A balancing act we are all privy to.

So I lined up a few things in the CBD that day. I had planned to hammer-away two hours of work at the city library, kill an hour oiling my networks in the city and then hop into a taxi to Observatory for my 2pm meeting.

Luckily for me, I have a friend who is also an entrepreneur in the electronics repair business, who has in the past five years managed to sustain a family of three through this business.

He never ceases to amaze me and is the source of inspiration for many youths in the NEETS bracket in our area, as he is also a young South African who was failed by our education system but nevertheless followed his passion for electronics.

He was due to stock up on spare parts in the Observatory area. So we decided to use the train because its cost-effective and the train station is just a stone’s throw from our homes.

By 9:15AM we were on the platform waiting for the train. Forty-five minutes later and with no train in sight, the station had collected a sizable army of commuters.

By 10:15 as many retail and domestic workers were starting to panic, I remembered vaguely a traffic report that morning about train delays but it sort of slipped my mind because train delays have become part of the daily traffic report.

When an hour had passed still with not a single train coming this way or going that away, any sane person would have thought that the hard working folks at the Passenger Rail Association of South Africa, commonly known as Prasa, would have the decency of communicating with the commuters and at least tell them what was going on.

Not with our rail agency!

Some of us had our eyes glued to the sometimes faulty traffic lights, while others had their in the direction of the expected train.

At around 11AM, there was a glimmer of hope when one commuter informed that a friend had assured him there was a train coming, which had just passed Stock Road station on its way to our station.

Faces brightened when the train eventually appeared and conversations turned to more pleasant things.

We embarked on the train and the ride seemed fairly safe until at Nolungile Station, on board came six of the men in blue, carrying guns for all to see.

They proceeded to the other coaches and that was the only security personnel I saw throughout the journey other than those bored army of guards milling around on the platforms with no particular duties.

The train arrived at Mandalay station and little did we know that we would be there for another 45 minutes.

Then people started disembark to look for water and stand in the shade. The sun was smiting us.

After more than 30 minutes of immobility, a guy brave enough headed off to the driver to ask how long we were going to be there.

The engineer replied that we were going to be the for about 45 minutes.

The commuter said he had to be in Cape Town by 3PM.

After a while the doors of the train suddenly closed shut as it jerked towards our destination, and there was a huge commotion and a scramble to get in from those outside.

There were even minors among the crowds.

No whistle was blown to alert the commuters that the train was about to move.

This reckless conduct could have killed people. Somewhere between Stock Road and Nyanga Stations, the train screeched to another halt.

As the people craned their necks to find out what was wrong, there was another commotion as a train zoomed past our.

People started screaming that someone had been hit by the passing train, sending the whole coach into chaos.

Next to me, a lady in her mid 20s started crying hysterically at the news that somebody had been hit by the train.

I had to console her.

My immediate thought was that we are in for more delays and might as well forget about my 2PM rendezvous.

But the train moved on within minutes and we resumed our journey. To confirm the accident, I called the Public Transport Voice, who had been advocating for quality public transport.

They confirmed to me that Prasa did indeed send them an sms about a “passenger incident near Stock Road and that they must expect delays”. I finally made it to my last station a few minutes before 2PM and needless to say, I was late for the meeting.

These are the daily experiences of many who rely on Prasa for their daily commute in the city, especially in the central line where the bulk of the poor commuters hail from.

The idiom “the fish rots from the head” is apt when it comes Prasa.

This has obviously spread over to operations as you can see from the above story.

Richard Walker and the gang in Adderley Street threw up their hands in the air on Monday this week, suspending services on the central line and blaming everything on cable thieves, whilst saying nothing about what would happen to those who use the train to get to work.

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