Pretoria - Metrorail, a division of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), has issued a stern warning against the burning of trains and assaults on train drivers, saying services would be suspended if such behaviour continued.
The warning follows the torching of two stationary train sets by disgruntled commuters on Tuesday night at Pretoria Station.
The five coaches that were ruined include three coaches from the Metroplus Express and two from the Business Express.
At the time of the incident a train that was to depart from Pretoria Station to Joburg was delayed.
In a separate incident on Monday, train services were suspended in Spings, Daveyton and Dunswart corridor as a result of increasing intimidation and assaults by commuters on train drivers and metro guards.
Tembela Kulu, provincial manager of Metrorail Gauteng, said they condemned what he described as growing incidents of assault directed towards staff members across Gauteng as and when challenges of delays in services are experienced.
“These incidents of vandalising Metrorail assets and attacking personnel are totally unacceptable. We will ensure that law enforcement agencies prosecute those perpetrators to bring an end to this wanton destruction of our assets. We are determined to throw the book at those found guilty of this criminality and will work hand in hand with the prosecuting authorities to ensure that they are charged with wilful destruction of public property and economic sabotage,” said Kulu.
Although Metrorail sympathised with the concerns of commuters around train service challenges experienced within the system, most of which are beyond their control, the destruction of property was in no way complementary to this process, Kulu said.
“It cannot be that while the country is desperately trying to improve its public transport system, with government injecting billions to make this a reality, others are determined to undermine this at all costs,” added Kulu.
A spokeswoman for Prasa in Gauteng, Lillian Mofokeng, said it was too soon to quantify damages but predicted it was in the millions of rand.
Police spokesman Augustinah Selepe confirmed that one person has been arrested for malicious damage to property and will be appearing in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court today.
Commuters expressed their views on social media. Mabelane Condrey said that trains to Joburg were running late since last week. She said the issue was that there were no trains to Joburg from 4pm till 7pm on Tuesday. She said commuters decided that enough was enough and torched the train.
Xolisani Maziwayinkosi Bhebhe said: “People are fed up with Prasa.”
Shakong Lesely Maila: “Yaaa, (it) does good; Prasa disrespects the commuters.”
Meanwhile, in the past, Prasa has acknowledged that it was experiencing challenges ranging from old infrastructure and old trains, which have led to delays in services.
Since November 2015 Gauteng alone has seen 67 of its drivers and Metro guards attacked for circumstances which were beyond their control.
Train services in Pretoria will operate based on the availability of assets and infrastructure.
Commuters have been advised to exercise patience and listen with care to announcements as there will be changes to the normal train schedule as a result of this incident, Prasa said.