Residents of suburbs bordering railway lines have been warned to be vigilant because railway fencing has been stripped. Photographer: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)
Residents of suburbs bordering railway lines have been warned to be vigilant because railway fencing has been stripped. Photographer: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Brazen Cape gangs stripping railway lines, stealing cables and shooting at cops

By Mthuthuzeli Ntseku, Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Oct 15, 2020

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Cape Town - The destruction of the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa)’s infrastructure has taken on such proportions that brazen gangs stripping railway lines, stealing cables and vandalising train stations are shooting at police trying to prevent them from carrying out their crimes.

Residents of suburbs bordering railway lines have been warned to be vigilant because railway fencing has been stripped.

The Pinelands Community Policing Forum (CPF) warned residents this week to be wary of criminals burning and stealing cables on railway lines.

It warned residents to not approach thieves, after an incident between Pinelands and Ndabeni railway stations, where suspects allegedly shot at police who tried to apprehend them.

CPF chairperson John Berry said the railway infrastructure was being destroyed daily because there was now no fencing alongside railway lines due to Prasa’s failure to look after its assets.

Unite Behind organiser Zuki Vuka said it was worrying that the destruction of Prasa property appeared to have intensified over the past six months. “Its infrastructure has been stripped, governance remains unstable, and operationally, commuters are still unsafe on trains. The service remains inefficient; information dissemination remains pathetic,” said Vuka.

United Commuters Voice (UCV) spokesperson Joao Jardim said vandalism was "out of control and will only get worse if syndicates are left to their own devices”. He said UCV had appealed to the City as well as provincial and national role-players to urgently introduce a scrap by-law.

The City’s transport portfolio committee chairperson, Angus McKenzie said under the prevailing circumstances the railway system had effectively become impossible to fix.

McKenzie said the lockdown had been no excuse for the situation currently experienced on the Central Line. “Everything that resembled a train service has been destroyed, from the station decks to overhead cables and even rail tracks have been vandalised. The line in some sections has now become an informal settlement, exacerbating the problem,” he said.

McKenzie said what was of even more concern was Prasa’s pulling out of an agreement with the City and province, which had seen a fairly successful Rail Enforcement Unit replaced with unarmed security services that had proved to be ineffective.

Metrorail spokesperson Zino Mihi said the passenger rail service had been using guards and boundary fences, CCTV cameras and drones, and law enforcement agencies to protect infrastructure. She said significant parts of the electrical infrastructure – overhead lines, sub-stations, tracks and some stations – had been either vandalised beyond repair or completely removed.

United National Transport Union spokesperson Sonja Carstens said Prasa’s appointment of the 3 100 security officers was "too little too late", and the (unarmed)officers had no experience in combating crime.

DA provincial spokesperson on transport Daylin Mitchell said: “The only way we will see long-lasting improvement of our railway system is if the provincial government is given the mandate and funds to manage the network of trains in the province.”

Cape Argus

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