'A sinister force' plotting to destroy CT trains - the City's Brett Herron

Burnt out trains at the Paarden Eilend depot in Cape Town. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp)
Burnt out trains at the Paarden Eilend depot in Cape Town. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp)

A "sinister force" is attempting to destroy Cape Town's railway stations, Mayoral Committee Member for Transport Brett Herron suspects after three train carriages were set alight on Friday.

News24 reported that a shooting and a fire caused serious train delays at Mbekweni train station in Paarl in the Western Cape.

The City's Fire and Rescue Service was also summoned to Firgrove railway station, near Somerset West, when two carriages were targeted.

At around the same time, a stationary carriage at Cape Town Central train station was set alight.

"I have said before that there appears to be a well-orchestrated and sinister force at work to destroy our very fragile but essential rail service," Herron said.

"A total collapse of our Metrorail service is a prospect too ghastly to contemplate."

Metrorail spokesperson Zino Mihi earlier told News24 that Metrorail required a minimum of 88 train sets to operate the service in the Western Cape. Only 42 reliable sets are currently available.

Regional Manager Richard Walker said the rate at which the company was losing train coaches to arson and vandalism "now far exceeds the rate at which we are able to introduce coaches back into service".

He said 47 coaches were lost in 2018 alone but since 2015, more than 150 coaches have been lost due to train fires. 

He appealed for urgent intervention from state security and law enforcement authorities, and offered a R25 000 reward for information on the perpetrators.

Herron claimed that the City lost more than 140 carriages to arson.

"I call on the South African Police Service to investigate [these incidents] as a matter of urgency," he said.

"Our commuter rail system is under relentless attack, and it is our most vulnerable citizens who are the worst affected by the declining rail service. This has a huge impact on our local economy and also affects other Capetonians."

"I am extremely concerned about [these incidents] as our urban rail system is already operating at a fraction of the capacity it needs to service commuter demand," Herron said

Herron called on national Transport Minister Blade Nzimande to take immediate action.

"I want to know whether the minister has considered taking a declaration of disaster or emergency to Cabinet?" he asked.

"All spheres of government must work together in securing our common future and well-being."

Earlier this month, the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) committed to its part in the establishment of a special Enforcement Unit.

It pledged to pay its R16m contribution towards the deployment of an additional 100 officers.

Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Transport condemned the latest train fires in Cape Town, and last Friday's in KwaZulu-Natal saying the incidents put the lives of poor people at risk.

"This kind of anarchy is condemned with contempt as it frustrates the efforts and objectives of linking up commuters with economic opportunities," committee chairperson Dikeledi Magadzi said.

The committee plans to reschedule its programme and invite Prasa to understand what strategy it has to deal with the crisis.

"The need for rail police has never been greater, not only for [the] security of passengers and state assets; but also the infrastructure which has been earmarked by the president as pivotal in getting the economy growing again," said Magadzi.

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