R30m damage caused by Cape Town train fire

Fire - [Google Images]

Officials are trying to establish the cause of a fire at Cape Town station that destroyed a number of train units – leaving an estimated R30m cost of repair, Prasa said on Sunday.

“While the reasons behind the fire are still sketchy, it is reported that one train arrived at the station, at platform 15, with one of the coaches already on fire,” Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani said in a statement.

She added, however, that “other reports suggest that the train was set alight when passengers got off the train when it arrived at the station”.

The incident occurred on Saturday afternoon. When the burning train, that had been travelling from Muldersvlei, stopped – a stationary train at Platform 16 then also caught alight.

Condemning the fire as causing “senseless destruction,” Zenani said seven coaches, as well as two motor coaches and five trailers were completely destroyed.

“The estimated cost of the damaged coaches is approximately R30m.”

Zenani said it was apparently three teenagers who spotted the fires and then alerted security as passengers were still disembarking.

“Train guards, together with security, tried to extinguish the fire, but at that time more coaches had already caught fire including the one parked at platform 16.”

No injuries were reported.

Chairperson of Prasa Board of Control Khanyisile Kweyama said that while the board did not want to “speculate” over the cause, the agency was “seriously concerned about what appears to be a pattern of train fires in the Western Cape”.

She said the latest incident set Prasa back after they attempted to recover from previous incidents of train vandalism.

Furthermore, Group CEO of Prasa, Sibusiso Sithole, said that the agency had already been considering deploying the new trains to Cape Town in order to bolster the “ageing fleet”.

However, concerns were now raised as to “whether it will be wise to send our new trains down there when the situation is still this volatile”.

He said a team would be sent to Cape Town to assess the situation.

Meanwhile, Siphesihle Dube, the spokesperson for the MEC of Transport and Public Works Donald Grant, said that the incident was “deeply regrettable”.

“Minister Grant has been briefed by Metrorail regional manager, Richard Walker, on this latest incident and has offered assistance wherever possible.

“While it has yet to be established whether or not arson was at play, it remains important that Metrorail continues to prioritise security of the rail network in order to prevent the frequency of attacks.”

He added: “I am sure the SAPS are currently working hard to determine the cause of the fire, and that if there was wrongdoing by individuals seeking to destabilise the rail network, that those individuals will be brought to justice.”

Earlier Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott said that updates to commuter schedules for the week ahead would be issued on Sunday afternoon.

Following the incident, the United National Transport Union (UNTU) called on police minister Bheki Cele to appoint a task team to investigate arson attacks on trains in Cape Town – alleging that Saturday’s incident was probably criminal.

“This is the fifth time train coaches belonging to Prasa in the Western Cape have been torched while it was approaching stations in recent months,” said UNTU general secretary Steve Harris – adding that in each case the modus operandi appeared to be the same.

“More than a million workers in the Western Cape rely on trains to get to and from work each month,” he noted.