File Picture: David Ritchie/ANA Pictures

Centurion - Metrorail drivers continued to resign at an alarming rate out of fear of being physically attacked by angry commuters frustrated by trains constantly arriving late.

Sonja Carstens, spokesperson of United National Transport Union (Untu), sounded the alarm about the safety of train drivers during a media briefing in Centurion on Tuesday.

She said drivers were vulnerable to furious commuters, who would attack them at a gunpoint or knifepoint because of train delays that caused them to be late for work.

"The ripple effect of the situation is that the drivers are increasingly traumatised to such an extent that they are resigning at an alarming rate. They fear for their lives because they will never know what might happen next. According to the drivers the dangerous route is the one between Pretoria and Johannesburg,"Carstens said.

She pointed out that she didn't have figures as to how often drivers tendered their resignations. 

However, she told the Pretoria News that there were at least one or two incidents of hijackings or robberies reported to the union every week.

"We don't have figures and the reason is that our train crews are being intimidated by Prasa (Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa) if they report it. We have been receiving reports on weekly basis of train hijacking. It is something that the train crews are supposed to inform Prasa and Prasa is supposed to act. But, they are told by Prasa to be quiet," Carstens said.

She attributed the attacks and hijackings to acts of criminality, which were on the increase on the trains managed by Prasa.

"It is obviously criminals targetting the railway lines because it is a soft target and you won't see police and security there,"she said.

According to her, crimes on trains were on the increase was due to lack of policing and security in the mode of transport.

Carstens called on Prasa and SAPS to ensure there was security on trains to prevent robberies and hijackings.

"The police are saying they are not responsible for the railway lines. But, you will never find the same situation happening at the airport. You will never be able to torch the air plane,"she said.

She said Prasa had cried out poverty that it didn't have money to put in place security measures.

"Prasa is sitting on a time-bomb- it is a ticking time-bomb because it is just a matter of time until we see more trains derailed in serious accidents," she said.

She said commuters didn't deem the train service to be reliable anymore as a result of the criminal acts.

"Our members don't carry their phones with them anymore because they are constantly being robbed of their valuables such as their cellphones, purses, you name them. When they are supposed to put claims for Prasa to refund them - they are simply told 'sorry it is not our problem',"she said.

According to Carstens, the unsafe situation on trains was not only limited to Gauteng, but it happened in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Western Cape too.

Pretoria News