Train vandals threaten KZN rail service

Metrorail may suspend its KwaZulu-Natal train services if rampant train vandalism and assaults on staff members continue unchecked, said Metrorail regional manager Sisa Mtwa at a media briefing in Durban on Tuesday.

”The suspension of services would be a last resort,” Mtwa said.

In March, a train had been burnt; in June, six trains had been stoned and another four coaches burnt thereafter. In between these cases, there were several other incidents. Each burnt coach, Mtwa said, cost R2-million.

Metrorail said stoning incidents have also increased. In the latest incident on October 17, five train drivers were assaulted, seven trains damaged and 450 windows broken.

”We condemn these atrocious acts. When our staff are being assaulted and our trains are being damaged, there will come a point where we will not have a need to run trains.”

He said the worst-affected areas are KwaMashu and Umlazi — an area that carries 80% of Metrorail’s passengers.

Logan Moodley, a representative from the eThekwini transport authority, told reporters he was very concerned. ”Any disruption of the rail system would have a knock-on effect on other transport systems, but we are supporting Metrorail.”

Blessing Zungu, chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal Commuter Forum, said the government is placing too great a focus on the Gautrain instead of improving local trains. He said commuters only use trains because of cheap prices, and appealed to the government to improve rail services.

”Eskom cannot even afford to supply trains with enough electricity. We are appealing to government to create extra power generators because there is a shortage of power supply.”

Zungu said trains are ”power sharing”, which is similar to the load-shedding system used by Eskom to reduce power use in urban areas.

Mtwa said Metrorail is committed to improving services. Police have given their support to stop the vandalism on the tracks, he said. If the operation to minimise train destruction fails, the service will be suspended.

Princess Maseko, a daily train commuter, spoke to the South African Press Association at the Durban railway station and said she was concerned about the pending suspension of rail services. ”I have three sons, who also use the train to school every day. I also use the train because I am a domestic worker. If I do not go to work, I will not get paid.”

Maseko, who lives in Clermont, said she has no other way to travel to work.

Another commuter, Juta Mkhwanazi, said he was once on a train that was being stoned. ”It was in Umlazi in June and people were being very violent. They were throwing sticks and stones. Some of the windows were shattered. I understand why Metrorail wants to do this, but I don’t know what we are going to do.”

A police officer speaking at the briefing said there used to be only 225 police monitoring the railway track. This will be increased to 600 to try to minimise train destruction.

Mtwa said Metrorail is working closely with provincial and local government transport officials, police, security departments, the eThekwini municipality, businesses, commuter forums, the education department and religious leaders to apprehend those responsible for vandalising trains.

The opposition Democratic Alliance’s eThekwini spokesperson Peter Davis said: ”Metrorail’s threat to suspend its services because of the most appalling vandalism must be resisted at all costs.

”The Democratic Alliance understands Metrorail cannot continue to carry the costs of damage done to its rolling stock by criminals who set fire to coaches or throw stones at passing trains, endangering Metrorail personnel, but a suspension of the service would cause untold hardship, especially among the poor in Umlazi and KwaMashu, many of whom depend on the cheaper rail services to go about their business.”

He urged authorities to hold a city-wide conference of all stakeholders in a bid to ”devise a strategy to protect the trains and commuters from such outright thuggery”. — Sapa

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