Cape Town - Arson is suspected as the cause of Tuesday’s train fire at Woodstock station which caused transport disruptions throughout Cape Town.

Metrorail’s regional manager Mthuthuzeli Swartz said on Wednesday that he suspects arson was the cause of the fire which gutted four carriages. Three people were treated for smoke inhalation. The fire began as the train drew into Woodstock station at 4pm.

“The blaze was not consistent with an electrical fire, which usually originates at the contact point between the high tension electrical wire and the motor coach. This fire occurred at one of the plain coaches, and appeared to have started inside rather than outside the coach,” Swartz said.

Had it not been for the quick response from Fire and Rescue services, which took six minutes from the call to arrival on the scene, the fire could have been devastating, he said.

An eyewitness, Cary Lord complained about Metrorail’s preparedness and response to the blaze.

“There was utter chaos, and there were no security guards or Metrorail staff in sight to assist passengers with the evacuation,” said Lord.

Swartz said: “Metrorail investigates each incident fully under the auspices of the national safety oversight authority, the Rail Safety Regulator. Any findings emanating from the investigation will be implemented and contingency plans revised accordingly. Safety remains top priority.”

The suspicion of arson highlights the massive problem of vandalism of trains by commuters in Cape Town, said Swartz.

“Each month we spend R12 million on preventative measures, add this to the hundreds of millions that we spend on maintenance and repairs annually. Toilets are broken, seats are damaged, cables are stolen, coaches are torched and ticket boxes are vandalised. The psyche of vandalism has the potential to affect the quality of the service we are capable of providing to the public.”

He said he was worried about what would happen to the new trains due to be introduced in 2015.

Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut said no criminal case had been registered, and police could not comment on Swartz’s arson suspicions.

Metrorail’s Riana Scott said an internal investigation into the cause of the fire “was ongoing”.

The fire caused delays across all rail lines, and traffic in the vicinity of Woodstock station was suspended for an hour while electricity was shut off. Train services to Simon’s Town and Bellville resumed shortly after the fire had been contained.

This morning Scott said: “Trains serving the Kapteins-klip, Cape Flats line are not yet permitted to stop at Woodstock Station until the integrity of the footbridge has been confirmed and it is declared safe for use. This arrangement affects approximately 38 Cape Flats and 80 Kapteinsklip trains daily,”

In October, a train carriage at Brackenfell station was destroyed by a fire. The blaze was caused by an electrical fault on the overhead power supply.

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Cape Argus