Cape Town - Metrorail suffered damages to the tune of R520.8million due to arson attacks which saw 174 trains go up in smoke in the past four years.
The attacks crippled the local rail service which now has only 44 out of 88 train sets operating.
Local advocacy groups have petitioned President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare Cape Town’s trains, which are run by the Passenger Rail Association of SA (Prasa), a national disaster.
In his State of the Nation address on Thursday night, Ramaphosa said he was taking steps to get state-owned enterprises (SOEs) such as Prasa back on track.
“We want our SOEs to be fully self-sufficient and be able to fulfil their development and economic role. We have established the Presidential SOE Council, which will provide political oversight and strategic management in order to reform, reposition and revitalise SOEs,” Ramaphosa said.
The former acting chief executive at Prasa, Mthuthuzeli Swartz, was dismissed last November and later charged with fraud, money laundering and theft of railway lines and sleepers to the tune of R1.5m.
“To restore proper corporate governance, new boards with credible, appropriately experienced and ethical directors, have been appointed at Eskom, Denel, Transnet, Safcol, Prasa and SA Express,” Ramaphosa said.
Last year, 56 coaches were destroyed in attacks on the Western Cape’s commuter rail service.
There have been no new arson attacks since October, when two trains were set on fire in Cape Town Station - while just a few kilometres away, Transport Minister Blade Nzimande and Prasa were busy briefing Parliament about how they planned to stop train attacks.
Metrorail spokeswoman Riana Scott said a joint effort between Metrorail Protection Services, SAPS Rapid Rail Response Unit and private security contractors has resulted in “hundreds” of arrests since March.
“Last year Metrorail Western Cape acquired forensic ability, deployed additional armed security in priority areas and implemented surveillance technology - arrests started to increase immediately and the first conviction followed soon. Anonymous tip-offs contribute to a significant number of arrests,” Scott said.
While trying to repair and replace lost coaches, Metrorail engineers are also fighting to modernise the service against a scourge of metal theft, vandalism, and decrepit old infrastructure.
The full modernisation of the Western Cape’s rail service is anticipated to cost R9billion.
A significant chunk of that expenditure will be on new trains, with R3bn earmarked to replace lost sets.
Depot modernisation will cost R2.6bn, station upgrades R1.6bn, and re-signalling R1.2bn. Projects under way total R292m.
Scott said Metrorail had already completed its new “nerve centre” from which all the signalling of trains would be monitored, and several areas already had new signalling installed and were operational.
However, vandalism is delaying improvements where they are most desperately needed.
“The central area as the busiest line was designated to be modernised first.
“However due to the devastating impact of vandalism and theft in the Bonteheuwel-Netreg-Nyanga triangle, only two out of four lines remain operable,” she said.
The next stations to be upgraded are Nolungile, Bonteheuwel, Mandalay, Lentegeur and Stock Road. The new Philippi station is nearly complete.
Metrorail has already launched the Rail Enforcement Unit to boost security and crowd management on trains, partly funded by the city council.
This put 100 extra law enforcement officers along the system.