South Africa

PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Cape Town to get more train sets as rail unit makes 66 arrests in 100 days

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, alongside its partners in the Rail Enforcement Unit, plans to add more train sets to Cape Town’s rail network. Arson, vandalism and cable theft have left only 48 train sets working, instead of the required 88. But on Thursday, officials from the joint rail unit said there were plans to have 60 train sets working by mid-April — before Cape Town’s cold and rainy winter begins.

There are plans for more train sets to be added to the embattled Western Cape rail network before winter starts. At a briefing on the first 100 days of the rail enforcement unit, Western Cape MEC for Transport and Public Works Donald Grant said “our plan is to push for 60 train sets operational end of March, beginning of April”.

Metrorail Western Cape regional manager Richard Walker said that at one point there were only “36 or 37 train sets in operation”, but the rail agency had plans to have additional train sets in operation by mid-April. Metrorail needs 88 train sets for an optimal service on Cape Town’s rail network.

The reason you see the gridlock in the city is because the trains are not working... Throw in the rain, it gets worse,” said Walker.

Until October 2018, train sets were vulnerable to arson attacks, which have since stopped, but there are still safety concerns for commuters, whom Grant described at Thursday’s briefing as “beleaguered”.

Commuters have dealt with vandalism, arson, late trains and more recently, delays caused by a resignalling programme and load shedding.

Despite arson attacks seemingly having come to a halt and the rail unit’s successes thus far, Walker admitted, “work is still in progress in Cape Town”.

Walker said Prasa’s resignalling programme is 70% complete — replacing the 60-year-old copper cable system with fibre communication. Cape Town station was completed in December and resignalling at Mutual and Bellville stations is planned to begin soon.

But at Thursday’s briefing, much of the focus shifted to the successes of the rail unit within its first 100 days.

Walker said the unit recorded the following results between its launch on 28 October and 31 January:

  • 133 joint operations recorded;

  • 66 arrests made;

  • 517 confiscations; and

  • 11,041 searches conducted.

When asked by Daily Maverick on the types of arrests and confiscations, head of the rail enforcement unit Neil Arendse said these included dangerous weapons, signal and copper cables, portions of rail tracks, 25 fraudulent tickets and suspected stolen laptops and cellphones. The unit had also confiscated substances such as alcohol and illegal drugs.

Walker confirmed none of the 66 arrests was arson-related, but “most is related to theft and infrastructure charges”.

The unit was initially announced after a meeting held in February, where Prasa, the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works decided to jointly fund the unit, with each entity contributing R16 million for the year-long project.

The unit has two functions — protecting Prasa assets and infrastructure and to ensure commuter safety while travelling.

In September 2018, former mayco member for transport and urban development Brett Herron accused Prasa of not paying its share when it had committed to do so.

Read Daily Maverick’s report on the dispute between Herron and Prasa here. But the rail agency paid up and the rail unit was launched to much fanfare at the end of October. While there are no plans yet to extend the mandate of the unit for another year, Metrorail’s Riana Scott has told Daily Maverick that Metrorail cannot make the decision alone, as it is a tripartite group. The decision to extend the unit must be made jointly.

Felicity Purchase, mayco member for transport in Cape Town, said the rail unit is “making a real difference”.

I’m expecting that more commuters will return to rail as the safety and security across the whole system improves over time.” DM

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