Attacks become costly

Firefighters hard at work trying to extinguish fire from a train that was set alight.
Firefighters hard at work trying to extinguish fire from a train that was set alight.

On average, 55 train carriages have been destroyed through arson in the Cape region annually since 2015.

This has been described as the works of a “third force”, to cripple the ailing rail infrastructure, already set at a staggering financial loss of R393million.

Metrorail has said this has led to a severe reduction of train services from 88 train-sets to between 30 and 40 train-sets for the entire Cape region.

Spokesperson Riana Scott said the attacks on trains and their infrastructure are similar and “it is highly improbable that(this) is accidental”.

“It begs the question who benefits from destroying essential state infrastructure, providing affordable mass transport to thousands of innocent workers,” she asked.

In recent years, Metrorail has experienced a surge in trains and infrastructure attacks. On Friday last week, three trains mysteriously caught fire at three different stations; Cape Town, Mbekweni, in Paarl, and Firgrove near Somerset West.

The incidents were the latest in a series of attacks and have raised concerns from Metrorail and the commuter advocacy group, the Public Transport Voice (PTV).

Scott said since May 2015, 167 carriages have been damaged amounting to about R393million. This means that more than 55 carriages on average are destroyed every year, and at least four every month.

PTV spokesperson Dalton Ndongeni labelled the attacks on trains as “very sad”. He said thousands of commuters, mainly on the lower end of the income groups were largely affected.

“We as the commuters are the ones that suffer,” said Ndongeni, who is also a train commuter.

He said the recent incidents could have a devastating impact on already struggling commuters.

“As commuters, we wait for plus minus two hours to get a train, and that puts you at risk. You become vulnerable to these boys (thugs) while waiting for your train. If they see you waiting for long, they plot against you,” said Ndongeni, adding that train commuters faced challenges and a “stigma” in their work places. He called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry. “We need to get(to) the root cause of this,” he said. “Clearly, the people who do this know something, not anyone can just go and dig(uproot) the cables.

Ndongeni called for the three spheres of government to work together to end the ongoing train crisis and attacks. As an organisation, he said they worked with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), to curb the attacks on trains.

“We don’t want to be seen as just throwing stones,” he said. “But there needs to be a political will. There are political dynamics in Cape Town. At the end of the day people are suffering,” he said.

Scott said while Prasa could not institute a commission of inquiry into the attacks, efforts were being made to ensure the service was not brought to a halt. She said a total of R292 million would be spent this year to protect “critical assets”. These include the completion of a three metre high reinforced solid concrete “walling of the entire Langa-Bonteheuwel-Netreg-Nyanga area to prevent unwanted ingress into operational tunnel”.

“In addition, proposed short and medium term solutions have been submitted to Prasa for approval and additional funding.”

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