Overcrowding and delays blamed for burning of trains in Cape Town

One of eight torched train coaches that PRASA lost at the Cape Town station. Photos by Mandla Mnyakama
Cape Flats, Cape Town, South Africa

Khayelitsha residents have attributed the torching of PRASA trains and the vandalism of the company’s property in Cape Town last week to the frustration train commuters have experienced with the frequent delays of trains and the shortage of coaches.

They also blamed the two issues for the unbearable overcrowding of trains and their late arrival at work.

The crush of commuters boarding the train at Khayelitsha Train Station.

The company was compelled to beef up its security measures after the destruction of eight (train) coaches because of deliberate fire by arsonists at platform 14 and 17 on Monday night.

Sive Mabona, 34-year-old of Site B in Khayelitsha who works for a hotel at the V&A Waterfront, complained that the hiccups they experienced with the PRASA’s train service became too much.

Our bosses regularly fall out with us when we get to work late because they struggle to understand it if you tell them about train delays. Then we also face the risk of muggings by criminals, when we return home late at night.”

There is no place in the world where people can tolerate a bizarre situation like this, while we spend excessive cash amounts on monthly tickets,” insisted Mabona whilst demanding that the company normalise its services.

He spent R174 for a monthly ticket between Nonkqubela and Cape Town.

Overcrowding makes commuting by train slow and dangerous.

Sakhumzi Dungayenzi, a 44-year-old from Monwabisi Park in Khayelitsha who travelled by train to Cape Town before taking a minibus taxi to a Sea Point-based construction company where he works, moaned that his two foremen recently shifted him from the site where he was previously based due to the train delays.

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It occurs now and again. If a train did not arrive late at the station where we catch them, it would abruptly stop in the middle of nowhere. The worst part is that there is usually no announcement to update us about the situation,”said Dungayenzi.

He claimed that to get to work on time at 7am, he has to take the 5:25 am train from Khayelitsha Train Station. He normally purchases a R190 monthly ticket.

Riana Scott, spokesperson for PRASA in the Western Cape acknowledged the delays that she said resulted from a defective 11kv electrical feed.

We usually have four 11kv power feeds available to operate the train service but between 2pm and 8pm, two of the four feeds became dysfunctional and that caused the remaining two feeds to be overloaded before they tripped the electricity and halted trains all over our network.”

The defective power feed at Maitland Train Station in particular affected all the routes and ruled out the usual contingency of manual authorisation due to the high volume of trains on the network during the peak hour. Some trains were delayed for more than two hours.

Those that operated on the Monte Vista and southern suburbs also could not operate until the technicians managed to restore the feeds just before 9pm,” said Scott.

The damaged train-sets were reportedly designated for the Cape Flats and Central Route.

Richard Walker, Regional Manager for PRASA, said the incident was a setback for the company’s plans to improve services and that all commuters would be negatively affected as a result.

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We apologise to the affected customers, we acknowledge that commuters have legitimate service concerns but we can never condone criminality,” said Walker.

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