Firefighters put out a fire after a train was set alight in Cape Town. File picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ African News Agency (ANA)
Metrorail is on the verge of collapse as arson attacks continue unabated and police admit they are unable to secure the transport service.

Authorities are still grappling with the latest wreckage caused by train fires in Paarl, Firgrove and Cape Town Station in separate blazes on Friday.

One passenger was killed and authorities are still trying to establish how many carriages were destroyed.

Commuters have been warned to prepare for delays as the rail authorities scurry to hash a plan to minimise the effects of the losses.

Railway police have admitted that they are unable to adequately police trains because of the Passenger Rail Agency of SA’s (Prasa) ineffectiveness.

Metrorail regional manager Richard Walker said they were determining how the service would be affected this week.

Metrorail is operating with less than 50 train sets and needs to almost double this amount to run an effective service.

“(Today) we will be looking at the damage we will have an indication of what we will be running on Monday,” he said.

But Metrorail’s woes mount as more than 20 civil society organisations are rallying together for a mass demonstration on Thursday to highlight Metrorail and Prasa’s inability to deliver a crucial service and prioritise commuters.

This week Rapid Rail Police Unit commander Brigadier Bonginkosi Solucotho painted a bleak picture when he addressed the standing committee on community safety on the state of the service. He warned that his officers were unable to execute their duties because their pleas to Prasa fall on deaf ears.

Solucotho presented crime statistics which showed that:

Contact-related crime which includes, arson and malicious damage to property had increased from 143 cases in 2016/2017 to 212 in the 2017/2018 financial year.

Property-related crimes such as burglaries, theft from motor vehicles were also on the rise.

Cable theft increased from 478 incidents in the previous year to 711 in the current year.

He said 400 police officers manned the service and had 52 vehicles, of which 21 were only roadworthy.

Solucotho said officers used the vehicles to patrol the railway lines as trains were too full to man from inside.

Solucotho said policing trains had become a challenge because:

Trains operate with empty fire extinguishers and technicians take too long to switch off electrical connections, which causes fires to spread to more carriages.

CCTV cameras at stations have been out of order since 2015.

Squatters live along railway lines.

“We have bimonthly meetings with Prasa where we accelerate our frustrations but some of these frustrations have not been attended to for a number of years,” he said.

“We have engaged with Richard Walker, but this issue with the CCTV cameras has been ongoing since 2015, we have been raising this issue and each time we are told a tender has been issued.”

Activist group #UniteBehind has called for an extension of the validity of train tickets to two months to mitigate the cost to commuters, who at times have to use alternative modes of transports due to delays, cancellations and overcrowding.

#UniteBehind spokesperson Matthew Hirsch said they expected around 500 people from different affiliate organisations including Equal Education, Reclaim the City, Social Justice Coalition and Right2Know.

“What we would like is for Thursday to be a platform for commuters to come and share their stories in terms of how delays affect them on a daily basis.

“That is why we are saying that it is unfair for commuters to pay extra for alternative transport when the trains are not working,” he said.

Walker said he was made aware of the demands by the group and that it had to be discussed with head office.

Weekend Argus