Commuters trying to catch a train towards Cape Town have been left over the lurch the last few weeks, following numerous delays and cancellations on Metrorail train lines.

According to Metrorail’s Twitter feed, delays on the Southern Suburbs line are being caused by the manual authorisation of trains operating between Retreat and Fish Hoek, with delays estimated for 50-60 minutes. Meanwhile, signal equipment failure at Woodstock and Cape Town Stations is causing 50-60 minute delays on the Cape Flats and Central lines. Vandalism and cable theft are also causing regular delays, and a number of trains are cancelled every morning during peak traffic hours.

Not my circus…

Passengers have had to endure seemingly endless frustration from Metrorail over the last few years, and are understandably upset with officials for the apparent lack of progress in fixing the train line’s many problems.

However, Metrorail is not under the jurisdiction of the City of Cape Town. Rail traffic is currently the responsibility of Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), although the City is trying desperately to change this. The City of Cape Town is trying their utmost to solve the current transport, and believes that improving Metrorail’s service would be a big step towards getting more cars off the roads. Reducing the city’s worsening traffic situation would save hours wasted in traffic, and billions in lost income.

Accident at Albertyn Way crossing

An accident last month at the Albertyn Way crossing near the False Bay station, involving an SUV and a train, caused severe delays to and from Simonstown over the last few weeks. The lines were opened for travel almost immediately after the accident, but the delays have been ongoing. A truck was involved in another accident at the same crossing at the beginning of the year.

Motorists living near these crossings have expressed their outrage in Metrorail’s apparent lack of concern over the dangers to drivers and pedestrians alike. Lakeside residents claim that it is impossible to see if any trains are coming, and often any warning from the station comes too late to avoid a near-collision.

Safety risks on Metrorail trains

Metrorail has committed to increasing the security presence on the carriages and in the stations, following ongoing safety risks to commuters and employees alike. There have been numerous complaints from commuters about theft, assault and intimidation by criminals targeting commuters across all train lines, but especially on the infamous central line.

Last year, Metrorail driver Pieter Botha was shot dead during a robbery, and earlier this year a driver was struck in the face by a brick in Stellenbosch, leaving him unable to return to work. It’s not only the drivers in danger: a commuter near Kraaifontein shot and killed an assailant during an attempted robbery, while in another incident a passenger was thrown from from a fast-moving train.

Corruption allegations

The United National Transport Union (Untu) has accused Prasa of cutting corners in the training and equipping of security services in an attempt to save money. Currently, security officers are expected to fight off armed criminals using plastic batons. Prasa has committed to spending R800 000 a month on security.

Before their term ended earlier this month, the Prasa board asked a judge to force the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority to investigate R5.2 billion worth of corrupt contracts at the rails authority. The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) filed an application to join the case to ensure the new board pursued the matter.

Power to the people

Commuters, meanwhile, are taking their frustration with the delays out on the trains themselves: a number of carriages at Cape Town Station were torched by angry passengers in June this year. Police were called in to protect Prasa staff and to prevent destruction of property, after a number of ships were looted. Frustrated commuters claimed that they received explanation from officials, and that they were not warned about delays.

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