Cape Town - Tens of thousands of commuters on Metrorail’s busiest routes are being ferried by buses because of damage to cables that may not be repaired until Friday.
The damage has “paralysed” the service between Nyanga and Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain, Metrorail says.
Conditions were tense as frustrated passengers thronging the Nyanga station heard on Wednesday night that Metrorail had cancelled the 13 trains to and from Mitchells Plain, and 14 on the Khayelitsha line.
Marshals were deployed to the 11 stations affected, Metrorail said.
Trains travelling from Cape Town are turning back at the Nyanga station.
In a further blow to many passengers, only those with a monthly or weekly ticket are eligible to use the bus shuttle services being arranged by Metrorail.
Others have to find alternative transport.
Golden Arrow is also allowing train commuters with weekly or monthly tickets to use its buses between 8am and 3.30pm and between 6.30pm and 5am until the train service has been restored.
Security guards spotted the culprits tampering with cables on a section of line between Philippi and Nyanga about 2am, Metrorail said. The culprits opened fire and fled. The guards gave chase, but were unable to catch them.
Metrorail has filed complaints of sabotage and attempted murder with the service to be back to normal by Friday.
Spokeswoman Riana Scott said the situation had been “tense” during peak hour on Wednesday, especially at the Philippi, Nyanga and Khayelitsha stations.
“We are doing all we can to assist our consumers. Remember, when they do not arrive at work, the economy gets affected. We have stopped selling single and return tickets and advised consumers to use alternative transport with their money. Those who have weekly and monthly tickets will use the buses.
“We are working around the clock to calm the situation. We will deploy 55 buses to assist. We urge our consumers to work with us while our team is working to solve the problem.”
Regional manager Richard Walker said police had been given information that would help them identify the culprits.
He could not divulge this, however, as the investigation was at a sensitive stage, Walker said.
Metrorail was also offering a R50 000 reward, double its standard amount, for information leading to arrests.
Cape Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ruben Richards said the chamber was distressed to hear about the level of 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.
He said the chamber supported Metrorail’s decision to lodge a criminal complaint.
Transport MEC Donald Grant said: “The Western Cape government condemns such acts of vandalism in the strongest terms. The perpetrators of these serious crimes must be made to face the full might of the law. We will support all efforts to ensure that this happens, and that the criminals are brought to book.
“Their acts have not only threatened the provision of reliable public transport to the hundreds of thousands who use trains daily, but also the safety of commuters.”
Walker said there had been an increase in the number of incidents of damage to and theft of Metrorail infrastructure, with these occurring every day. The damage caused on Wednesday was the most serious yet, he said.
Metrorail had spent about R2.5 million on repairs in the past few months alone.
“It is not sustainable to incur such costs.”
Walker said he believed the damage inflicted on Wednesday had been deliberate and intended to cripple the service.
Such damage also risked the lives of commuters.