Cape Town -
Fed-up Metrorail commuters stormed the rail service manager’s offices at Cape Town Station on Tuesday, demanding to know why they were constantly inconvenienced by late trains.
The issue – affecting about 350 000 daily commuters in the Western Cape – reared its head again on Tuesday morning when trains were delayed by a derailment at Cape Town station, which had happened on Saturday.
Metrorail told commuters there were problems on the southern, northern central and Cape Flats lines. Services to Cape Town from Kapteinsklip, Chris Hani, Khayelitsha and Retreat were cancelled. Trains from Heathfield to Cape Town were delayed.
In 2012, the Passenger Rail Agency of SA admitted to Parliament that Metrorail’s ability to provide a quality service to commuters remained under pressure and that it hoped to transform the service by 2014/15.
The situation came to a head on Tuesday when irate commuters demanded answers from Metrorail.
One angry commuter said she was almost raped while waiting for a train and another feared losing her job because of late trains. The two women, Nomachule Cikoze and Mwabisa Nsizi, are from Khayelitsha and travel by train to and from work.
Nsizi, 25, has been taking the 7am train from Khayelitsha’s Site C to Cape Town for the past three years. She buys a monthly ticket for R165.
“It takes me almost three hours to get to work. The train sometimes stops along the way for five minutes and sometimes for more than two hours. It’s frustrating; instead of getting better, the service is getting worse.”
Nsizi said she usually arrived home at 7pm, but on Monday the train was three hours late. While making her way home from the train station she was accosted by four men who snatched her bag, containing her cellphone and wallet.
The men also slapped her and pushed her to the floor, she said.
“One of them tried to take off my dress. He managed to tear off the top part. I just screamed and a guy walked towards us and they ran off. I take the 6pm train because I want to arrive home before dark… it’s not safe in the area where I live.”
Nsizi cannot afford a taxi or a bus. Her boss has given her several warnings about arriving late for work.
“Metrorail takes a full amount for my ticket, but I don’t get anything back from them when their service doesn’t run as it should. No apologies or any kind of communication.”
Cikoze, 44, of Site B, Khayelitsha, is also in hot water, for being late for work in Claremont, where she is a domestic worker. She has been taking the train around 7am for the past five years. At Woodstock, she transfers to the southern line for Claremont.
“Its chaos when the train stops before reaching a platform. Some people push and shove wanting to jump out of the train to walk to the next station. We have been complaining for a long time, but nothing is changing.”
“It’s bad. Everyone who takes the trains from Khayelitsha is complaining. My boss is fed up and has had enough of me coming to work late. She told me I’m at a point where I might lose my job… I have three children to feed.”
Cikoze said that on Monday her train was delayed by at least three hours. “I have no money for the bus. I don’t earn much… No one from Metrorail tells us what do to, whether we should find other means of transport; you decide whether to jump to another platform or to wait. The minister of transport should intervene.”
The protesters did not gain access to the offices and left the station.
In explaining the delays, Metrorail regional manager Mthuthuzeli Swartz told the Cape Argus that platforms 11 and 12 were normally reserved for northern trains, platforms 13 to 15 were used by Cape Flats trains, platforms 16 and 17 by Kapteinsklip trains and platform 18 for Chris Hani trains.
“Due to the closure of these platforms, trains from the areas listed are being slotted in-between the southern trains, leading to delays,” said Swartz
He assured commuters every available technical team, assisted by specialist contractors, was working to repair the infrastructure.
“The emergency recovery team will attempt to restore the access to platforms in stages, with full functionality to all affected platforms expected within 14 days,” he said.
Swartz apologised to commuters affected by the remedial work.