WRECKAGE: Firefighters battle to extinguish a fire on one of two trains that were allegedly set alight at the Cape Town Central train station at the weekend. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)
The phenomenon of trains going up in flames is a cause for concern. It must be tackled urgently. In the latest incident, about R30 million damage was caused when a fire destroyed a train at Cape Town station on Saturday.

Thankfully no injuries were reported. The fire followed recent fires which destroyed trains at Steenberg, Ottery and Retreat.

The damages were reportedly close to R20m collectively.

In the Ottery incident, one person was killed and four others injured.

Now the United National Transport Union has called on Police Minister Bheki Cele to form a task team to probe the fires. We support the union’s call. An investigation must establish who is behind these acts of arson. It must also establish who stands to benefit most from attacking an already dysfunctional commuter service plagued by constant delays, crime and vandalism.

Metrorail management seems to try, but are unable to overcome a very complex problem, as their key function is not law enforcement.

But they can and should do more to prevent attacks on trains. Too often, access to stations and to trains is a walk in the park for criminals. People travelling without tickets is a daily occurrence. Commuters have become easy pickings for armed thugs.

An investigation into the arson attacks is urgent, but Metrorail should in the meantime tighten up security on trains, stations and station precincts.

RAZED: Interior of one of the carriages. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency

No commuter should be allowed to carry any dangerous weapon, or be on a train without a valid ticket. And if there are surveillance cameras, they must be in working order.

What about metal detectors? Trains are the backbone of public transport in the City and the main means of getting to work for thousands of people from disadvantaged communities. Workers using this mode of transport contribute to the local economy. If they get inconvenienced, the knock-on effect is felt by business.

This is why attacks on trains can be regarded as economic sabotage. In other modern cities, such acts would draw urgent attention and set off a high-level investigation involving the police and security agencies.

One life lost in an arson attack is one too many. Minister Cele owes it to all train commuters to ensure a probe gets under way immediately. That is if he is serious about crime on trains.


Cape Argus