The much-anticipated Rail Enforcement Unit was launched during a parade ceremony at Cape Town railway station. A 100 officers underwent training and are ready to assist the existing security services. Their main objectives are to ensure passenger safety and prevent the burning of trains. Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - The Rail Enforcement Unit launched by the country's transport minister in October has helped improve the safety of train commuters and infrastructure, rail operator Metrorail and the city of Cape Town have said.

The REU is jointly funded by Cape Town, the Western Cape provincial government and the state-owned Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, of which Metrorail is a division.

The unit provides an additional 100 law enforcement officers to the existing security personnel in the face of sustained attacks on rail infrastructure and rolling stock assets, the sabotage of the urban rail network and the targeting of commuters and rail employees by criminals.

"The people of Cape Town deserve a safe and reliable public transport system," City mayor Dan Plato said in the joint statement.

"Rail should be commuters’ mode of choice because commuting by rail is more affordable, and it’s the most efficient mode of transport when operating optimally. The REU’s successes to date give me good reason to believe that this unit will assist us in stabilising the urban rail service over the next few months."

The city and Metrorail said in the first two months of REU's operation, 36 people had been arrested on charges including assault, possession of drugs and stolen property as well as malicious damage to property, while 379.5 metres of stolen cable and 800 kilograms of stolen railway signal cable had been confiscated.

"The REU has been a force multiplier for PRASA’s regional Protection Services Unit," they said.

"Together, the teams have ensured greater operational visibility on trains and stations, searching more individuals during joint operations, confiscating a greater number of dangerous weapons and fraudulent train tickets."

The next priority would be closing down non-compliant scrap dealers and lobbying for legislative changes to permit only traceable electronic payment methods, Metrorail Western Cape regional manager Richard Walker said.

"The current practice of cash-for-copper-no-questions-asked encourages illegal and illicit scrap dealing," he said.

The City of Cape Town and Metrorail said the promulgation of two enabling laws in the fight against metal theft, in addition to the deployment of technology and forensic resources, had enabled PRASA to secure 198 offenders in custody, successfully prosecute 17 offenders and rack up a total of 95 years jail sentences.

They urged the public to assist these efforts by reporting crime and vandalism.

African News Agency (ANA)