Nzimande slams DA for state of emergency call over trains

Blade Nzimande
Blade Nzimande

Transport Minister Blade Nzimande has slammed the DA's calls to have a state of emergency called in the Western Cape over the state of train services.

Last month, Mayoral Committee member for Transport and Urban Development Brett Herron made the request after an attack on a train en route to Stellenbosch. The call was reiterated last week when three trains were set alight on the same day.

The minister said he was surprised by the DA-led province's "posturing" as they formed part of the national task team, which consisted of all three spheres of government and was set up to deal with issues concerning Metrorail.

"This call by the DA is dishonest, opportunistic and political manoeuvering that seeks to exploit the dire situation confronting rail services in the Western Cape," Nzimande said.

"I rebut this political posturing in the strongest terms."

Metrorail has had to deal with several train fires over the past few months, in addition to the vandalism of equipment and theft of cables.

Spokesperson Zino Mihi told News24 last week that Metrorail required a minimum of 88 train sets to operate the service in the Western Cape, but that it only had 42 reliable sets.

She indicated the entity would release statistics of arrests made for cable theft next week.

Nzimande said the national government had invested billions in the resuscitation of Western Cape rail services.

"Our resignalling project, including the new Train Control and Operations Centre [in] Bellville is already 60% completed and will cost R1.2bn; our station upgrades will cost R1.6bn; depot modernisation R2.6bn and 35 new train sets will cost R3bn," he said.

Despite his criticism, Nzimande welcomed the establishment of a special Rail Enforcement Unit, funded by the Western Cape government, the City of Cape Town and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa).

"This joint law enforcement unit will help us clamp down on the so-called 'bucket shop' – illegal scrap dealers who continue to trade, providing cash for copper," Nzimande said.

Prasa only recently reaffirmed its commitment to the joint venture after Herron blasted the rail agency for failing to give its R16m contribution.

Nzimande called for harsher sentences for the more than 150 criminals awaiting trial for malicious damage to an theft of Metrorail property.

"To date, six cases were finalised with a jail sentence between three and 30 years – with no bail granted to the offenders," he said.

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