Train commuters in for rough ride after fires
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Siyavuya Mzantsi and Michael Nkalane
TRAIN commuters, especially those on the northern line, are in for a rough ride after two trains were destroyed by a fire at Cape Town station at the weekend.
Over the past year, the beleaguered service lost 37 trains, most of them due to fires. Metrorail was mum yesterday on whether anyone has been arrested in connection with any of the arson attacks.
Regarding the weekend’s attacks, passengers can expect delays of up to an hour, Metrorail said yesterday.
Yesterday, the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) distanced itself from the arson attack.
The union has been at loggerheads with Metrorail. Last week, the service got an interdict at the 11th hour preventing Satawu from striking on Thursday. Hours later, a number of Satawu members were suspended for protesting.
The two trains destroyed on Saturday night operated on the northern service area, where Metrorail has already been struggling to transport passengers. Last week saw massive delays due to vandalism.
The service also warned of possible overcrowding.
The weekend’s attack means that five platforms (8 to 12) at Cape Town station are temporarily out of commission due to repairs.
Commuters are also urged to be attentive to announcements for platform changes.
Metrorail is offering a reward of R100 000 for information leading to a conviction over the attacks. It promised that anonymity would respected, said regional manager Richard Walker.
He condemned the acts of arson, saying there is no justification for destroying state assets and inconveniencing thousands of commuters.
“This type of sabotage robs commuters of reliable, safe and convenient transport.”
The region’s train fleet comprises 89 train sets to operate 696 trains every weekday, 360 trains on Saturdays and 225 trains on Sundays.
He warned that the situation would not get better in the short term.
“Peak hours are already totally oversubscribed and the pool of five spare trains has been depleted,” he said.
“This region has limited ability over the short term to replace sets with mechanical problems. Unfortunately, there are few suppliers that maintain trains and they have limited capacity to expedite the refurbishment of carriages.”
Satawu shop steward Luntu Sokutu the union was not responsible for the attacks.
“There is no way we can set trains that transport our workers to and from work alight.”
Yesterday, however, Satawu said Metrorail’s decision to suspend its members was a “grave provocation” which would lead to the worsening of the situation.
The statement was released on Saturday before the two trains were set alight at Cape Town station.
Police spokesperson FC van Wyk said: “Ten train carriages were found burning on Saturday night at Cape Town station. Cases of arson and malicious damage to property were opened for investigation.”
Satawu said it was left angered by the “continued provocation” displayed by the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa)’s “arrogant management” for suspending shop stewards and charging its entire membership for participating in Thursday’s picket outside the Cape Town station.
Metrorail was tight-lipped about the suspensions, saying: “Disciplinary matters are internal processes and we will conduct matters accordingly.”
Members of the public are urged to contact Crime Stop on 08600 10111, SMS line 32211, the Metrorail Protection Services on 021 449 4336 and the Transport Information Centre on 0800 65 64 63.