A section of the 5km stretch of railway line that has been stolen by a syndicate operating in the area, the rail way track leads from the Union Carriage and Wagon Company in Nigel. Picture: Antoine de Ras, 09/07/2014

Johannesburg - Five men made a brief appearance in the Dunnottar Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday for allegedly stealing hundreds of tons of railway tracks in Ekurhuleni, worth an estimated R1.3 million on the scrap metal market.

Thumbu Mahlangu, the Ekurhuleni MMC for Roads and Transport, confirmed that men had stolen the track from a single railway line leading to a repair depot in Nigel.

It is unclear how long the robbers had been operating, but Mahlangu said it appears to have been a gradual process. He said the men were “caught in the act” on Tuesday by the private security company that patrols the rails. Security guards found them in possession of gas bottles used for blowtorches.

The men were remanded in custody and would appear next week for a formal bail hearing.

The line was used to transport carriages, including ones from Metrorail trains, to the Union Carriage and Wagon depot, where they are repaired, said Mahlangu.

Depot officials had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

Mahlangu said he would meet Transnet, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), which manages Metrorail, and the police tomorrow to discuss the theft.

“The thieves are experts. Where they’re cutting, they’re not making mistakes,” he said.

Mike Asefovitz, Transnet’s freight rail spokesman, agreed. “These aren’t the little guys. To take this kind of weight and to cut it up you need specialised machinery.”

He said this stretch of line did not fall under Transnet as it was privately owned, but said it was not utilised daily, which likely allowed thieves to steal it.

Prasa spokeswoman Lillian Mofokeng said: “Our operations are not affected.”

The Star