Chaos on the lines

SOYISO MALITI

The torching of a stationary train in a Kraaifontein staging yard in the early hours of Friday, was part of a wave of chaos to strike Metrorail and ripple through the City, causing massive traffic congestion and stranding furious Metrorail commuters.

Theo Layne, the City’s fire and rescue services spokesman, said fire destroyed three carriages and damaged four more.

Police are investigating a case of arson, according to provincial police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel André Traut.

In Muldersvlei later that morning, commuters waited for an hour before their train to Kraaifontein arrived.

The incident was followed several hours later by the setting alight of two carriages at the Esplanade station in Woodstock, at 6pm. Just days earlier, on Saturday April 9 fire gutted two trains and damaged platforms 11 and 12 at Cape Town station.

Metrorail regional manager Richard Walker has blamed the crisis on “open warfare” between illegal strikers and staff continuing to work.

Apart from the torching of carriages, other incidents that had added to the delays on Friday included the torching of an apparatus case set at Philippi and cable theft at the Salt River yard, Mr Walker said.

According to other media reports, there had also been a rail death between Wynberg and Wittebome train stations, defective signals at

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Netreg station, the loss of points detection at Wynberg and an electrical malfunction on a train between Bonteheuwel and Netreg stations

The anarchy on the rails spilled over onto the roads with gridlock on the N1 and N2 on Friday as desperate Metrorail commuters tried to take to cars, taxis and buses to get home.

Motorists fumed at congested intersections, MyCiTi buses were delayed and overloaded taxis could be seen driving on pavements to escape bumper-to-bumper traffic in the city centre in the evening.

Mr Walker warned that employees breaking Metrorail policy or a court order the parastatal had sought to halt the strike, would be dismissed. He said management was doing everything possible to end the strike.

“We have been granted another interdict, this time to prevent further intimidation of staff and to prevent illegal strikers from entering our premises or gathering in groups.” He said illegal strikers had intimidated staff and circulated “incendiary propaganda trying to garner support for their illegal action”.

He commended the majority of Metrorail’s regional employees saying they had refused to be drawn into the strike.

The escalation of deliberate vandalism could not be a coincidence, he said.

“The Western Cape region has a finite fleet of eighty nine train-sets to operate 698 trains every weekday, 360 trains on Saturdays and 225 trains on Sundays. The loss of 32 carriages destroyed in six separate incidents since October last year holds a serious risk of overcrowding.”

SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) spokeswoman Zanele Sabela has rejected “with the contempt it deserves” suggestions that some of its members might be behind some of the arson attacks.

She told the Northen News that Satawu condemned any criminal conduct. Ms Sabela said the strike had been in the pipeline since the beginning of April before SATAWU officials sat in a meeting with Metrorail on Monday April 6 until after 5pm to discuss picketing rules. She said that throughout that meeting, management had given no hint of their intention to interdict the strike. “Then at around 10pm (that day) they notified SATAWU that they had been granted an interdict by the Labour Court and that the strike was declared illegal and unprotected,” Ms Sabela said.

Not aware of what had happened during the night, the union’s members had downed tools as planned on the Thursday morning April 7, she said. It was only after they were notified of the interdict and instructed to report for work the next day that they ceased the action. SATAWU is set to oppose the interdict in the Labour Court today, Wednesday April 20.

Metrorail is offering a reward of R100 000 to anyone with information that secures a conviction in the arson case. Donald Grant, MEC for transport also voiced his condemnation on the attacks on Metrorail. “My (department) and the Western Cape Government are determined to use whatever means we can to lessen the impact of these cowardly acts on commuters,” he said in a statement yesterday.