EXPOSED: Does Metrorail Have A Future In SA?

Overcrowded carriages, train surfing and robberies are just some of the regular occurrences that take place on SA trains.

Metrorail is quickly failing the millions of commuters that use the service on a regular basis. Not only has vandalism and theft increased, but the safety of officials and commuters has been compromised.

According to a recent report, between January and April this year, Metrorail have lost 140 coaches. This is due to theft of critical components, vandalism and arson.

With all the doom and gloom invading the rail service in Cape Town, is there any hope for the future of Metrorail?

Why Is Metrorail Failing? 

Over the years, the services that Metrorail provides their users has been on a downward spiral. Trains always arrive late and commuter safety is a serious problem.

The United National Transport Union expressed their worry over the safety of their train drivers. There have been twelve attacks on Metrorail officials in the Western Cape in 2017.

In June this year, two trains set alight due to train delays.

According to Mayoral Committee Member for Transport and Urban Development, Brett Herron, only four out of ten trains arrived on time. This is compared to the international norm of 80% of trains being on time.

“Commuters have been, and are still, fleeing from passenger rail as they cannot rely on the trains to travel to and from work,” explains Herron.

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How Dangerous Is Metrorail? 

Train travel has become a dangerous and risky form of transport, with criminals taking advantage of the overcrowded stations and lack of security officials.

According to a report conducted by the GroundUp, Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) has fined Metrorail R3 million. This comes after the discovery that Metrorail has been employing security staff who aren’t registered under the PSIRA Act.

In a leaked letter written by the Western Cape Regional Security Manager Ernest Hendricks, “80% of our [Metrorail security] staff is not PSIRA registered due to service providers who trained our staff and have failed to register the staff after completion of the training they conducted.”

Criminal Activities

It has been noted that the route between Bonteheuwel to Cape Town is the most dangerous and overcrowded route.

In 2016, a young commuter, Darryn August was stabbed on his way to work in a train from Somerset West to Cape Town. He tried to protect a pregnant woman from robbers when he was stabbed and thrown out of the train. August was left paralyzed from the attack.

In a recent attack, security officer, Mkululeki Nelani was shot in the Bonteheuwel-Netreg area two weeks ago. In another attack in October, an on-duty officer was viciously beaten by two armed men with a hammer. This incident took place at Woltemade station in the Western Cape.

According to Metrorail Western Cape spokeswoman Rianna Scott, the incident was investigated and more security was being set up.

“We have never had such an incident at Woltemade. For now it looks like the officer was targeted. We are waiting for a full report from the police to establish the motive for this attack. The report will give us an indication if there is a need to put in extra preventative measures at our stations,” she explained in a previous report.

So What Is Being Done About This? 

Metrorail is run by Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), who is in fact part of the National Government. Although it is the National Government’s responsibility to ensure that the rail system is working, this has been unsuccessful.

“The City cannot sit back and wait for the National Government to intervene because time is of the essence. A sense of urgency is required, as is a plan of action,” explains Herron.

It has since been announced that the City of Cape Town will gradually take over the management and operations of Metrorail.

“The City’s Transport and Urban Development Authority (TDA) devised a business plan which stipulates how we intend to take over passenger rail in a structured and incremental manner. The take-over must happen gradually so that the City can plan ahead, acquire the necessary skills, and develop the additional capacity to ensure the long-term sustainability of passenger rail.”

Given The Go Ahead

On October 26, the Council approved the plan and the plan has since been sent to the National Government for approval.

Although the City’s plan has been partially approved, Metrorail and Prasa have yet to respond to the City. This approval process could take between two to three years to be completed.

“Despite indications from Metrorail and Prasa management that they support the proposal, we have been unable to get them to commit to moving it forward. That offer still stands. I reiterate that the City supports the incorporation of Metrorail into the City’s existing public transport network and that we will pursue the assignment of the urban rail function to the City,” explains Herron.

The Future Of Metrorail

If the City’s plan is approved by the National Government, they plan to change the way that the rail system is run. The City plans to ensure that Metrorail is commuter-centred so that travelling by train becomes the preferred choice.

Herron outlines some of the issues that Metrorail needs to tackle in order to ensure faith in their passengers:

  • The service is punctual, with at least 80% of trains running on time;
  • We have enough rolling stock to meet the passenger demands;
  • Commuters feel and are safe at our stations and on our trains;
  • The service is integrated with other modes of public transport so that commuters can easily transfer from a bus to a train to a minibus-taxi;
  • Commuters can use one method of payment – meaning, that we have one payment system that can be used for all public transport services, be it for travelling in a MyCiTi bus, or by train.

“As the contracting authority, the City will be able to determine the performance standards for service providers. In so doing we will be able to monitor performance, to penalise operators and service providers for non-compliance when standards are not adhered to, or even cancel contracts when there is a breach,” adds Herron.

Final Words From The City

Herron insists that commuters must have patience during this transitional phase of the plan.

“I want to assure residents and those who are concerned about the financial risks involved in taking over the urban rail function that we will not be taking over any unfunded mandates. National Government will have to allocate all of the relevant subsidies, key among them being the operating subsidy, to the City. All additional funding needed for building up commuter rail from scratch must also come from the national fiscus.”

This project is going to cost the City millions to stabilize the system.

“We will host a Rail Dialogue early in 2018, and will also engage Metrorail and Prasa on the implementation of possible short-term interventions. The City cannot do this alone – we need the cooperation and support of Metrorail, Prasa. As well as those who are employed by Metrorail, the private sector, and most importantly, civil society and rail commuters going forward,” concludes Herron.

Last week, Brett Herron took a trip on a Metrorail train to Cape Town. His trip was documented and spread across social media platforms. Here’s what happened…





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