ALERT: The City of Cape Town’s Disaster Risk Management Centre co-ordinated a safety exercise near Monte Vista railway station that simulated a rail disaster. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - The process to recruit and appoint 100 law enforcement officers to ensure the safety of rail commuters in the wake of the ongoing arson attacks on Metrorail and Prasa's infrastructure is under way. 

The members of the Rail Enforcement Unit will be selected from the Law Enforcement Department's database of qualifying personnel, the City of Cape Town said. 

"The Rail Enforcement Unit will focus on the safety and security of Metrorail commuters and infrastructure," City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for transport and urban development Brett Herron said. 

"This approval by the City’s Mayoral Committee cannot have happened soon enough. Our urban rail service is under siege with numerous arson attacks the past few weeks. The Rail Enforcement Unit must be operational as soon possible, and they must hit the ground running. 

"Metrorail’s train fleet in the Western Cape has lost a staggering 149 carriages from May 2015 to date, with the cost of the last two arson attacks alone amounting to R51 million. 

"In the meantime, it is our rail commuters who suffer the most with longer travelling times, delays and cancelled trips," Herron said. 

The City’s Safety and Security Directorate has been talking to the various rail entities about placing Law Enforcement officers on trains for a number of years, the City said. 

"The officers will receive their training at the City’s Safety and Security Training Academy," the City's safety and security chief JP Smith said. 

"In fact, I foresee that the training will commence within a few days, as soon as we have completed the selection process. We hope to have the officers on the job either in September or October at the latest."

The cost to establish and operate the unit for a period of 12 months is approximately R47.9 million and is jointly funded by the City, the Western Cape Government and PRASA.

"Apart from commuter safety and vandalism, the unit will focus on the theft of crucial Metrorail infrastructure and assets. The unit’s members will rely on technology and predictive analytics, and will support the South African Police Service to identify those who are involved in the illicit metals theft industry. Given the state of the rail network, it goes without saying that this will be a top priority for us. It is something that we have touted for many years and is desperately needed," Smith said.

The ultimate goal is to address the safety and security issues in an effort to stabilise the urban rail service in the short term.

"I am pleased to see this initiative come to fruition after years of discussion. I am grateful for the support from PRASA and our provincial counterparts," Herron said. 

"I also want to thank the Minister of Transport, Mr Blade Nzimande, for clearing his schedule last week to visit Cape Town to view the damage to PRASA infrastructure caused by sustained attacks on Metrorail trains. The urban rail system is the backbone of public transport in Cape Town with thousands of commuters relying on the service. We are now stepping up our efforts to prevent further decline," he said.

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