Metrorail activists call for national disaster to be declared

The very contemplation of a train journey strikes fear into passengers’ hearts, says #UniteBehind

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Photo of burnt train carriages
Burnt out train carriages at the Paarden Eilend Depot in Cape Town. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

#UniteBehind has called for Minister of Transport Blade Nzimande to declare the rail crisis a national disaster. The commuter activist group has also asked for an emergency meeting to be convened by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee of Transport to “address governance, management, safety and security” on Metrorail. The organisation has also called for an urgent plan to address commuter-centred safety.

This follows arson attacks on numerous trains across Cape Town and an attack on passengers between Lynedoch and Eerste River on Friday evening that left one passenger dead and eight others injured, as well as an incident in Johannesburg that injured about 100 commuters.

#UniteBehind wrote to Nzimande in late August and made the letter public on Wednesday. The organisation also sent a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa on 1 August asking that commuter rail be declared a national disaster.

In the letter to Nzimande, #UniteBehind asked for a stable and permanent PRASA Board, adoption of a reasonable safety and security plan that is commuter centred, rapid emergency maintenance plan to bring damaged coaches into service, alternative transport for all commuters during delays and cancellations.

“Armed robbery, sexual assaults, sitting on windows, hanging on doors, riding the roof and fires caused by sabotage directly affects thousands of people. The very contemplation of their train journey, whether to hospitals, schools, work, the beach or to visit relatives strikes fear into their hearts,”

“Working class commuters carry the burden of spatial apartheid and violence, low-incomes, the high costs of public transport, and the crushing weight of state capture mismanagement and incompetence,” said the letter.

The City of Cape Town, the Western Cape government and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) signed an agreement to form a unit to improve security on Metrorail train lines in May this year. This followed an agreement reached at a rail summit in February.

#UniteBehind said that in a meeting held with PRASA on 21 August it was given an assurance that the adoption of a commuter safety plan will be given priority and that there would be engagement on the Western Cape recovery plan.

The letter also called for Donald Grant, Western Cape MEC for Transport and Public Works, to insist that disaster is declared in relation to commuter rail.

The spokesperson for Grant, Siphesihle Dube, responded: “Declaring commuter rail a disaster is not a competency of the Western Cape MEC for Transport and Public Works, but is the competency of the National Minister of Transport, Dr Blade Nzimande. PRASA is an entity of the national department, not the provincial department.”

“Despite it not being part of our mandate, the Western Cape Government and the City of Cape Town have dedicated resources towards finding solutions for the many issues that plague passenger rail in the Cape,” said Dube.

GroundUp tried to obtain responses from Nzimande as well as Dikeledi Magadzi, Chairperson of the the Portfolio Committee of Transport. Neither gave comment by the time of publication.

TOPICS:  Prasa / Metrorail

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