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Johannesburg - Authorities at the company operating the R30 billion Gautrain are at their wits’ end trying to curb the scourge of cable theft that has hampered the rapid rail transport service since its inception 20 months ago.
Yesterday, criminals outclassed the train’s international security systems, ripping out 370m of signalling cable between Centurion and Midrand stations.
This forced the train to travel at only 30km/h along that stretch, resulting in delays of between 15 and 30 minutes further along the route.
“We are massively frustrated to once again fall victim to this sort of crime,” said Kelebogile Machaka, spokeswoman for the Bombela Concession Company, which operates the Gautrain.
Machaka said theft had continued despite new measures to tackle the problem. These included surrounding the railway line with a 1.5m-high concrete palisade fence and CCTV cameras at key points.
They had also deployed dedicated security teams, including dog and motorbike patrols and response teams, and the number of security teams would be increased.
“The the problem of cable theft is far bigger than just the Gautrain. It’s a national scourge tantamount to economic sabotage,” said Machaka.
Errol Braithwaite, another Bombela spokesman, said the stolen cable was recovered soon after it had been removed at about 3am. Thieves had smashed open a manhole cover and it appeared they hooked the cable to a rope, tied it to a vehicle and hauled it out.
The quick response unit found the cable on the ground.
Bombela said cable theft from rail networks was a growing problem internationally.
“Published statistics indicate that train delays due to cable theft in the UK have increased tenfold since 2004/5. Thieves are targeting signalling cables, overhead power lines and even metal fences to sell for scrap.”
The company urged anyone who spots suspicious behaviour to phone 0800 811 811 or the SAPS crime call centre on 08600 10111.