File photo: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) regional manager Richard Walker and Brigadier Bonginkosi Solucotho of the Rapid Rail Police were invited on an "eye-opening" train trip by civil society group Public Transport Voice.

Dalton Ndongeni, of Public Transport Voice, told the Cape Times both officials now realise the situation is far worse than what they thought, but it was especially the brigadier who was shaken by what he saw on Wednesday, hearing from commuters how they daily fear for their lives. 

Walker and Solucotho in fact only had time to take a trip on the Central Line from Nolungile to Nonkqubela due to other commitments.

“We also invited Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport, and MEC for Transport Donald Grant because of the R48 million that is being shared between Prasa, the City of Cape Town and the provincial transport department to launch the new safety and security unit. 

“Herron and Grant said they had other commitments. We asked them to send representatives, but no one came. Hopefully we can have a follow-up meeting where all the issues can be discussed.”

Ndongeni said the situation is particularly bad between Nolungile and Nonkqubela. “We did an audit on the services and also looking at the infrastructure, and the Central Line is very backward. Commuters are very vulnerable to criminals, especially at stations from Nolungile to Nonkqubela, where they are robbed of their belongings on the platforms.

“People are being forced to wait for the trains far from the platforms to prevent themselves from being robbed. And when the train pulls in, they run for their lives to make it safely onto the train. There is no visible security and police at the stations on the Central Line.

“The 100 recruits for the new train security unit are not nearly enough and we wanted them to have an idea of the extent of the problem. They are very diplomatic about their plans for the new unit and don’t want to leak any information."

Speaking to GroundUp during Grant and Solucotho’s inspection, Khayelitsha train commuter Dumisa Mbolekwana said: "You never know what time the train is coming. All you do is wait and hope that it comes. The train system is so bad and the criminals know it. They get us when we wait for delayed trains."

Mbolekwana was among the commuters who had a chance to express their views to Walker and Solucotho.
Most of the windows on the train were broken and some doors did not close properly. At Nolungile, some of the security cameras had been ripped out.

"You can't carry a bag because you do not want to attract criminals," Nolubabalo Moni said. "I work in the southern suburbs (where I also use the train) and it is not like this (Central Line). There are security guards walking inside the trains and the trains have windows, but not this side. Why?" she asked.

Walker said there currently are 88 armed guards to escort train drivers on the Central Line. He added that Prasa and the police had established a task team to deal with the issue of train arson.