Plans to send new trains to Cape Town to help to bolster Metrorail’s ageing fleet could be put on hold following an alleged arson attack which left 11 carriages destroyed at the weekend.
The estimated cost of the damaged carriages was approximately R30million.
Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) group chief executive Sibusiso Sithole has responded with dismay at hearing the news of the burnt trains.
“Just a few weeks ago, I visited the region with the rail team to determine the amount of work that we need to do to stabilise the rail service in Cape Town.
“We have already been considering deploying the new trains to Cape Town to bolster the ageing fleet.
“Cape Town is a very important region for Prasa because of the high rail commuter take up compared with the rest of the four regions, but we are now seriously concerned whether it will be wise to send our new trains down there when the situation is still this volatile,” said Sithole.
He said Prasa will send “a high-level team” to the City “to assess the situation and hopefully get to the bottom of what is really happening there”.
Mayco member for transport Brett Herron said: “The sabotage of our rail system is relentless.”
He said preliminary investigations show that one of the two trains arrived at the station, at platform 15, with one of the coaches already on fire.
The burning train stopped at the adjacent platform where another train was stationary, which also caught fire, said Herron.
Train guards, with the help of security guards, tried to extinguish the fire, but at that time more coaches had already caught fire including the second train.
Prasa Board of Control chairperson Khanyisile Kweyama said: “We are seriously concerned about what appears to be a pattern of train fires in the Western Cape.
“Prasa has, in the past few months, been hard at work to try to recover the service in the Western Cape, particularly the Central Line, and this incident sets us backward.
“If there is an element of criminality surrounding this latest incident, it is the most senseless act against the only public transport system that is affordable to the masses of commuters who rely on this service.”
United National Transport Union (Untu) has called on Minister of Police Bheki Cele to appoint a task team to investigate the spate of arson attacks on Metrorail trains in the City. The union said this weekend’s incident was the fifth time in recent months.
Untu general-secretary Steve Harris said the new train will not be allowed to travel on the routes in the Western Cape unless the railway line is secured so pedestrians cannot access it.
On May 30, a person died and a woman sustained serious injuries when a train caught fire.