Cape Town - Metrorail has urged commuters to take a stand against vandals who continued to “sabotage” infrastructure. Thousands were stranded after a train and a station in Khayelitsha were set alight on Wednesday night.
The national head of the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) has arrived in Cape Town to personally address the “pandemic”.
Metrorail spokeswoman Riana Scott said on Thursday they had been forced to suspend train services between Khayelitsha, Kuyasa and Chris Hani stations on Wednesday night “until further notice”, after a train and station were set on fire by protesters.
“Four carriages, overhead electrical structures and station facilities suffered extensive damage, effectively preventing operations of any kind.
“Due to ongoing volatility in the area, Metrorail is unable to operate its usual contingency bus shuttles.
“Commuters are advised to use alternative modes of transport for today [Thursday] at least,” Scott said.
The empty train had been on its way to Cape Town at about 7.20pm, when it was stoned and then either petrol-bombed, or hit burning debris on the line, or both.
Scott pleaded: “It’s misdirected, self-defeating destruction. How can you destroy today what you’re going to need tomorrow?
“How do those lucky enough to have jobs get to work? How do kids get to school?” she asked.
On Thursday, Prasa chief executive Mosenngwa Mofi arrived in Cape Town to inspect the damage.
About 4.5km of track was damaged on Wednesday night.
Scott explained the two stations that were out of action were smaller ones “specifically built as a service to the community, to reduce the overcrowding in Khayelitsha, to make it easier for Khayelitsha commuters”.
“We need the community to stand up and say: ‘These people are attacking our lifeline into the city’.”
Police were on Thursday monitoring the situation and Metrorail technical teams were out at first light assessing the extent of the damage.
Only when their inspection was completed would Metrorail know when services would be restored.
On the scene on Thursday, overhead electrical cables, warped and blackened by the flames, hung swaying slightly in the crisp morning air. The usually bustling Chris Hani station was eerily quiet on Thursday as staff assessed the damage.
While the smouldering carriages had already been moved, broken doors and unidentifiable debris were scattered along the tracks.
Melted metal lay on the platform. In some places, rocks and broken bottles still lay where they had landed after being hurled at the train.
The carriages had burnt for a while under the traffic bridge that runs over the station. The underneath of the bridge was covered in soot and the structure had to be closed for safety reasons, as a crack had formed, law enforcement officers said.
The latest attack on Metrorail assets comes after a commuter crisis at the end of last month, when vandals paralysed the service between Nyanga, Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain.
At the time, Western Cape transport MEC Donald Grant condemned the vandalism, warning: “Obstructed signalling systems can have deadly consequences, as trains rely on them to transport their commuters safely and on time to their destinations.”
Prasa said it had spent a total of R382 million over the past three years as a result of theft and vandalism.
Mofi said four National Prosecuting Authority prosecutors would be appointed to deal with Metrorail cases.
“Our memorandum of understanding with the NPA demonstrates the seriousness with which we regard cable theft and vandalism of our assets, which potentially destabilises the whole economy if commuters cannot get to their places of work. We are also continuing our partnership with the police through their Rapid Rail Police Unit, which then links with our security teams on the ground.”
Prasa had established cable-theft units nationally.
“Our replacement costs are escalating beyond our control. These are monies we could be using to improve our service and upgrade our assets.
“Closing the central lines in the Western Cape, or even the Vereeniging line in Gauteng, may be the only solution to this pandemic,” Mofi said.
Cape Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ruben Richards said the body was distressed about the vandalism of infrastructure which served communities that relied extensively on trains to get to and from work.
“We find ourselves in a stressed economy, with millions of folk competing for limited job opportunities.
“Getting to work on time can be the difference between holding on to a job or being let go,” Richards said.
Additional reporting by Kieran Legg