Commuter dies, 4 injured in suspected arson attack on Cape Town train

2018-05-30 11:25
Cape Town Metrotail train burning at Ottery. (Twitter)

Cape Town Metrotail train burning at Ottery. (Twitter)

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One person was killed and four people were injured in a suspected arson attack on a commuter train to Cape Town on Wednesday morning, the City's fire services spokesperson said.

Spokesperson Theo Layne said a body was found in one of the gutted coaches of the train near Ottery station, but it was so badly burnt that rescuers could not yet determine if the victim is a man or a woman.

Layne added that the train driver was not injured and managed to speak to the officer in charge.

"She thought she heard something being thrown at the train," said Layne.

As a result, the fire in two coaches is being treated as "suspected incendiarism" - a term which describes the act of starting a fire maliciously.

Evacuation

Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott said the on-board fire started at around 08:48.

The train crew evacuated passengers and decoupled the burning carriages from the rest of the train to contain the damage.

The high-voltage overhead power was switched off, and emergency services and the fire brigade arrived on the scene.

Alternative routes kicked in and buses were requested to operate between the Ottery and Wetton stations.

However, the Cape Flats line was temporarily closed.

"[The] Cape Flats service (both lines) [is] temporarily suspended until [the] scene is cleared and police investigation is complete – [the] estimated duration [is] three - four hours," said Scott.

Western Cape police spokesperson FC van Wyk said police were investigating an arson case and had opened an inquest docket.

He said the train had been travelling from Retreat and caught fire between Southfield and Ottery stations. 

Second incident

This is the second incident involving coaches catching fire in a month, after the tentative reopening of the Central line, following months of cable theft, burning of substations and attacks on train staff.

Train drivers and staff affiliated to the United National Transport Union (UNTU) refused to work on the line from January, saying the last straw was the murder of a security guard escorting a train.

Services had tentatively resumed when on May 22, News24 reported that a train pulled in to Retreat station while two coaches were on fire.

UNTU spokesperson Sonja Carstens told News24 after Wednesday's fire that the union was extremely concerned about the two fire incidents, and feared that they may have been orchestrated by somebody who stood to gain from rail travel being out of action.

Trains vulnerable

UNTU had also noticed that, after the bus strike had been resolved, trains were targeted again, and drivers and staff were extremely vulnerable due to speed restrictions.

She said that, because of rampant cable and infrastructure theft along railway lines countrywide, train drivers could not go faster than 30km/h because they were operating via manual authorisation.

"With all trains on manual and not going faster than 30km/h, it makes them more of a target to criminals," said Carstens.

She said this meant that it was possible to throw a burning object through the open window of a train travelling at a speed of 30km/h.

Carstens added that a lot of work had gone into getting Cape Town's Central line trains up and running again.

She added that usually, when a train was torched, it was by commuters who were frustrated that trains were standing still.

However, in these cases, the trains were being targeted while on the move.

Metrorail has offered a reward of R25 000 for information relating to Wednesday's incident.



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