A train goes up in flames at Cape Town station. Picture: Leon Knipe
A train goes up in flames at Cape Town station. Picture: Leon Knipe
Metrorail passengers vandalise stalls and Prasa offices at Cape Town station in anger at train delays this week. Picture: Phando Jikelo
Metrorail passengers vandalise stalls and Prasa offices at Cape Town station in anger at train delays this week. Picture: Phando Jikelo
Cape Town - Metrorail is unable to guarantee commuters that scenes like those witnessed at Cape Town station on Monday night will not be repeated, the company says.

Angry commuters went on the rampage because trains were running late, setting coaches alight, and damaging a MyCiTi bus and shops in the station precinct.

Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott said the delays were caused by an overloaded electrical system which tripped and brought trains to a halt.

Scott said that even though the rail service operator tried to ensure service was uninterrupted, there were no guarantees that delays would not occur.

“Each incident is evaluated after the event to ensure that preventive actions are implemented,” said Scott, when asked how the company planned to avoid future incidents of vandalism and violence by commuters.

Scott said the primary reasons for delays were old and obsolete technology as a result of decades of disinvestment in railways, and perpetual vandalism.

The theft and vandalism of assets, mainly cables and other metal-bearing components, resulted in services being unreliable.

Metrorail passengers vandalise stalls and Prasa offices at Cape Town station in anger at train delays this week. Picture: Phando Jikelo

“The current reality is that the old and poor condition of rolling stock and infrastructure impact negatively on the ability of Metrorail to achieve its objective of delivering quality services to customers,” said Scott.

“We empathise with commuters who were cold, late and hungry with families waiting at home.

“However, disruptions to the train service are not planned or orchestrated by Metrorail, but are caused by external factors and/or as a result of obsolescence,” she said.

The company gave the assurance that any planned maintenance would take place during off-peak times and over weekends to minimise any disruptions or inconvenience to customers.

Scott has, however, undertaken that the company will, in the absence of appropriate technology such as on-board announcement facilities, employ all the passenger information channels available to communicate future delays.

“Metrorail will soldier on to keep trains running, albeit with fewer available coaches and platforms after Monday night’s rampage at Cape Town station,” said Scott.

Metrorail has also beefed up security because of the delays on Monday night.

Monday’s violence by commuters was condemned by Parliament’s transport portfolio committee.

The United National Transport Union demanded that Metrorail regional manager Richard Walker resign immediately.

Meanwhile, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development Brett Herron said the Metrorail delays and service interruptions had become unbearable.

“Metrorail is in a state of crisis, but the city has no authority or control over Metrorail. This service is owned and operated by Prasa - a state-owned entity that reports to the national minister of transport,” he said.

The city said it had made every effort to assist Metrorail, including proposing a safety and security joint venture to combat vandalism and other crimes on the system, but that Prasa has yet to respond.

Herron said the city is developing a Rail Plan which identifies the various options for their role in commuter rail.

Details of the plan will be made available in the coming weeks and will be presented to Prasa as soon as it is approved by the council.

In a separate incident, police confirmed that a suspect was arrested for arson after a train was set alight at Koelenhof station in Stellenbosch on Wednesday night.

Weekend Argus