Metrorail or Metrofail?
By Earl-Ryan September
Trains are delayed due to manual authorization, defective sets and speed restrictions. Allow for extended travel time due to a train that failed in-section. If you make use of South Africa’s rail operator Metrorail, these are well-known messages by now.
The daily struggles and frustration of thousands of my fellow commuters are as a result of not only mismanagement and corrupt activities but also first no planning and then poor planning by government.
The current state of the service is where you not guaranteed the train will be on-time and your ticket might or might not be checked. What you can be sure of is an overcrowded train. After the struggle to get in, comes the struggle to get out. Picture yourself a scrum, better yet wrestling’s royal rumble.
Another challenge for both rail operator and consumer is that some of the tracks are not owned by Metrorail. Much of it is rented from Transnet and therefore Metrorail cannot legally do repairs and maintenance. This often leaves the operator and commuters frustrated with delays or a suspended line, pending TFR maintenance.
While the daily numbers of commuters have increase, the number of trains decreased with many trains sabotaged by arson and vandals. This led to some trains being cancelled and the remaining trains shorter to ensure a service on all lines.
Metrorail needs more than 90 train sets to have a normal service in the Western Cape, for the four lines that stretch over 490km tracks. With all the arson incidents the past two years, there was a time the province had less than 60 train sets.
I am of the opinion that the arson and cable theft is a well-organised syndicate, deliberately destroying Metrorail.
Unfortunately there is no security compliment to have a guard of honour next to the railway line, and there is just not enough manpower for all the stations and points.
Security guards are deployed to hot-spot areas, but families of the men and women are victimized and their lives threatened. Many of the unarmed guards step back when the criminals target the areas. These guards don’t speak, out of fear for the lives of their loved-ones. Many of the guards are also not trained to use a firearm. And we cannot just go and give every Hendrik, Jason and Thabo a gun.
Cable theft is a reality. Between the 21st and 25th of July 2017 eleven suspects were arrested. Rail crime is however not viewed as serious enough by our justice system. If it was how many criminals caught, or against whom there is enough evidence were successfully prosecuted?
One of the positives is there has not been a single derailment with fatalities in the Western Cape and compared with other regions train incidents are fewer. Delays and cancellations are also lower, and lines suspended for service (after a major incident) last a few hours – compared to days in other regions – and as hard as this is to believe, commuters here receive better communication.
However the reality is that Metrorail operates in an open environment, making it not immune to and thus vulnerable for criminal activities. Social ills in communities play a big role in the many challenges. Often criminals use the tracks as an escape route. There are also areas where the railway line is a border for rivalry gangs.
Railway police don’t resort under Metrorail – but SAPS – and having no jurisdiction over them or their deployment adds to the safety headache.
The past month also saw a number of level-crossing incidents, despite having booms and Metrorail appealing in their statements for motorist to be vigilant when approaching a level-crossing.
Part of addressing the problem is not only government making more funding available, but also making rail more than just a priority on paper. We will also have to start addressing crime, social challenges and unemployment. If we don’t do this and continue to play the blame game, commuters and Metrorail will continue to be the biggest loser and hooligan criminals laughing all the way to the bank.
Who is metrorail?
Metrorail is a division of the Prasa, a state-owned entity of the national government that resorts under the Department of Transport (DoT). Metrorail is funded by treasury with a small percentage through ticket sales. The railway service is the backbone of the Western Cape economy, yet it gets about a R6 subsidy per passenger as oppose to MyCiti bus service who gets about four times as much.
The past three decades very little to no upgrading was done to our rail network. This is besides all the repairs. In 2009 Prasa launched Project Modernisation, a 20 to 30 year project that not only includes new trains but also upgrading of infrastructure. We have to wonder though what a setback every cable theft, arson and vandalism incident has. The arson incidents are condemned in press statements, but commuters need more than a sentence from their leaders. Commuters, like trains and the infrastructure that are destroyed are government assets. One needs to ask why our defence force – who protects rhinos – cannot be deployed to protect our trains and stations, against the hooligans who are destroying the assets of our future.