Report train vandals to police, Prasa urges

Coaches burn near Koeberg railway station in Cape  Town (Theo Layne, Cape Town Fire and Rescue)
Coaches burn near Koeberg railway station in Cape Town (Theo Layne, Cape Town Fire and Rescue)

Cape Town - The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) has called on the public to snitch on those behind the arson, theft and damage to Metrorail's trains and cables in Gauteng and the Western Cape, or it may have to start reducing services on high-risk lines.

This after two more coaches were burnt between Thursday and Friday, bringing to 10 the number of coaches torched in the Western Cape this week.

On Thursday night, Stellenbosch firemen had to put out a blaze on the coach of a train at Muldersvlei, and then on Friday morning, the same coach and another went up in flames near the Koeberg railway station in Cape Town.

Cape Town fire and rescue spokesperson Theo Layne put the cause of the fires down to suspected incendiarism.

Lindikhaya Zide, acting CEO of Prasa, said that between January and April 2017 alone, Metrorail lost 140 coaches due to the theft of critical components, vandalism and arson.

These were disguised as service related protests, he said.

On Monday night, eight coaches were set alight at Cape Town station supposedly because trains were late.

Some people went on the rampage, torching trains, smashing turnstiles and looting shops on the station concourse, with the fire brigade and police rushing in to bring the situation under control.

Golden Arrow bus services were urgently brought in to help with the stranded passengers and commuters. With two platforms closed while arrangements were made to remove the burnt out trains, there were more delays.

Zide said the total number of carriages out of service in the Cape Town region alone since March 2016 is 66, with another 487 coaches damaged by vandals.

This led to overall services reduced from 701 trains a day to 677, leading to cancellations and shorter trains. 

"These acts of vandalism are orchestrated in many forms such as train burnings, cable theft, the cutting of electrical lines, but the most deadly being the placement of objects on the rail tracks aimed at creating a train derailment."

Vandalism had increased over the past four years with 621 incidents in 2013, 2 558 in 2014, 1 773 in 2015 and 3 300 in 2016 nationally, he said, warning that if this continued Metrorail might have to suspend some services in high-risk corridors.

"The knock-on effect is that commuters and communities who are dependent on Metrorail will have to seek alternative and more expensive public transport services," Zide said.

Metrorail is already overspending on its operational budget by approximately R1m to hire the buses.

Zide warned that commuters and Prasa employees are at risk, with a major train accident waiting to happen if the problems do not stop.

"The trains are meant to serve our people who are the drivers of the economy. Prasa therefore reiterates the call for the burning of the trains to stop immediately and for people to report acts of vandalism to the police," he said.

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