Train commuters call for Metrorail to get its act together

Some of the regular train commuters were seen cramming at the Cape Town taxi rank after the suspension of the Metrorail train service to Cape Flats areas. Photo by Mandla Mnyakama

Suspension of trains on Cape Town’s Cental Line that goes to Bishop Lavis, Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha left thousands scurrying around looking for alternative transportation.

Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Train commuters have called on the government to force Metrorail to get its infrastructure properly fixed, increase the number of their coaches and for the company to upgrade its security services before the parastatal resumes services.

The call by infuriated commuters followed the suspension by the company of train services on its Central Line from Monday this week, blaming vandalism of several of their mini sub-stations, cables and back-up batteries on Sunday.

This resulted in commuters on the Central Line which links Bishop Lavis, Bontehuwel, Khayelitsha, Nyanga, Philippi and Mitchells Plain having to travel by buses and minibus taxis to and from work.

Trains to Paarl and Wellington were also suspended, with Kraaifontein as far out of Cape Town as you can go.

Some commuters complained of losing their jobs or being constantly threatened with dismissal by their bosses for getting to work late. Others criticised Metrorail for its reported failure to keep them updated of disruptions to their services.

They suggested that the state should replace the company with a new one. In October the City of Cape Town announced its intentions of taking over the management of commuter rail.

A deserted Heideveld Train Station in Gugulethu after the suspension of Metrorail’s train service to the Cape Flats. Photo by Mandla Mnyakama

“The government must intervene and rescue us from the mess we found ourselves in, here in Cape Town. We have suffered too much and some of us even lose jobs as a result of the regular late-coming issues. To travel by bus and minibus taxis while I possess a monthly ticket disturbs me too much because I incur extra cost every day. I wish that the government can act very seriously on this issue and get this company to fix its infrastructure properly, increase their coaches and also have their trains on time when they start with their operations in our areas. We will appreciate if they could also upgrade their security services so we could be well protected,” said Fadiela Le Roux of Belhar.

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Le Roux, a factory worker, complained that the escalating train problems caused her to pay R120 to get a bus ticket when she had already spent R150 on a monthly train ticket.

She said the prevailing problems with the company disappointed her because the railway is conveniently close to her workplace.

Muriel Abrahams (53) and a cleaner from Mitchells Plain bemoaned that her boss regularly threatens her with dismissal for arriving late at work due to the train delays. “My boss keeps on threatening to fire me everyday I arrive at work because I am usually late. We face a huge difficulty and we need help. The government should come to our aid and replace Metrorail with a new company. We are fed up with their treatment and endless excuses because we end up spending the little money we earn on train tickets that we are unable to use,” said Abrahams.

Nokuphumla Mtshemala (47), a mother of three from Khayelitsha, also complained that her employer regularly quarrels with her for late coming as a result of train delays. So too Lulama Mbolekwa (40) from Philippi who said she has dumped the train service because it had become unreliable to her. A general worker in the Cape CBD, she presently travels by bus to work.

She insisted that fixing broken windows on the trains will also help to guarantee the safety of commuters from the unruly youths who pelt trains with stones.

Riana Scott, spokesperson for Metrorail, said that after Sunday’s incident they were left with no option but to suspend their services. Scott complained that the rate of vandalism simply outstripped the rate of repairs and blamed the escalating problems they experience on the homeless, drug users, illegal electrical connections and the ongoing trading of illegal scrap in the areas they operate. Unemployment and uncontrollable crime, she said, has caused vandals to target their rail assets.

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“Metrorail employees (including technicians and train crews) and commuters are victims as much as everyone else within these communities racked by crime and related issues. We will do our utmost to ensure that trains operate, that technicians expedite repairs and that we communicate soonest in case of extended delays,” said Scott and added that unless the relevant authorities address socio-economic issues, Metrorail’s efforts would be compromised.

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