Train services to Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain still suspended

File Photo: An overcrowded central line train.

It is still not clear when train services on Metrorail’s Central Line will resume after it was suspended last month.

Despite the fact it is over a month since the Central Line that serves Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain was suspended, Metrorail cannot say when services will resume. The train services to the most populous areas of the Western Cape were suspended in the first week of November following the theft of more than 730 metres of overhead catenary wire near Bonteheuwel.

At the time, the rail company said that their technicians were working to replace the wire but 35 days later, Metrorail says it is in the process of acquiring the services of contractors to fix the damage. “The service is suspended indefinitely. Preparations to acquire the contractors to fix/replace the assets that must be reinstated is underway,” said Metrorail spokesperson, Riana Scott.

The longest suspension of the central line was for six weeks in January-February 2018 after a security official was shot and killed at Chris Hani station in Khayelitsha. The incident led to a number of employees led by their unions refusing to work on the line, citing concerns over safety.

“An estimated date of reinstatement of services is not yet confirmed,” said Scott.

Meanwhile Metrorail has released CCTV footage of suspects wanted in connection with the recent burning of trains in Cape Town. According to Metrorail, 18 train carriages were destroyed and will cost R61-million to replace.

According to Cape Town Mayor, Dan Plato, in the last three years more than 40 train sets, with at least 140 carriages, have been burnt without a single prosecution.

A reward of R100,000 is being offered for information that will lead to the conviction of those believed to be behind the burning of trains.

A still image from the CCTV video showing the suspects sought for the arson attack at Cape Town station.

During the Transport Imbizo last year, the then Minister of Transport, Blade Nzimande, said that they were in the process of engaging the Justice Ministry to make sure that the burning of trains constitutes arson as it was not the case at the time. Emailed and SMS inquiries to the Transport Ministry to find out if there has been progress on this went unanswered.

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However, the Western Cape MEC for Community Safety, Albert Fritz, said he welcomes the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act “which was assented into law by the Presidency on 20 November 2019.” The Act, according to Fritz, allows for decisive action against people who destroy critical infrastructure such as trains and buses. 

“In particular, I wish to welcome Section 26 (3) and (4) of the Act which allows for decisive action to be taken against those who unlawfully intend to or who are proven to cause damage or substantial harm to critical infrastructure. Those convicted of intent to cause damage could be imprisoned for up to seven years and those proven to have caused damage could be imprisoned up to 20 years. Let this be a stern warning to all who wish to undermine our public transport system,” Fritz said.

Civil society coalition group, #UniteBehind said that they welcome the tougher laws but the rail company still has to fix its infrastructure. “We welcome the move but it still doesn’t solve the bigger problems of ailing infrastructure,” said #UniteBehind spokesperson, Matthew Hirsch.

Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain have been struggling with public transport for a while after the MyCiti N2 Express was suspended in May after the parties to the agreement to provide the bus service could not agree on terms for its extension.

At a press conference on Monday, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula announced that that he has decided to place the state-owned Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa under administration with immediate effect.

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