Commuters battle train delays

File photo: Independent Media

A young man died last week while trying to board an overloaded train at Bellville station, as commuters were once again faced with train delays and cancellations.

And, just a day later, another man was seriously injured when he was struck by a train while crossing the tracks at Melton Rose station.

Bellville police spokeswoman, Warrant Officer Henrietta van Niekerk, said the man, believed to be in his late 20s, had run across the tracks as the train approached the station on Wednesday September 6. He had then tried to hang onto the outside of the train but was pulled between the platform and the train and killed on impact.

Three more commuters were seriously injured as the man tried to lift himself up by grabbing onto them.

“ The other three men managed to fall on the rails,” she said.

ER24 spokeswoman Ineke van Huyssteen said paramedics had found the man on the platform next to the train at 6.15pm, but they had been unable to resuscitate the man.

The incident was posted on the Metrorail Commuters — Cape Town’s Facebook page and drew a flurry of comments, many blaming Metrorail and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) for the man’s death.

While many agreed the man had acted irresponsibly, they said the increasingly chaotic rail service drove commuters to such desperate measures.

John Hilton Short said: “Extreme stupidity, but it also highlights the desperation of commuters on the disaster called Metrorail. Something drastic needs to be done urgently. The time frame of two years to fix things is totally unacceptable. In two years time, the situation will be ten times worse.”

Abigail Bezuidenhout asked how many more would need to die? “We are reading more and more about people being injured as this service deteriorates.”

Alzavier Constable Rodericks said: “You know, I don’t call this stupidity. People are tired of reaching home late. With trains being cancelled and constantly late. We don’t care how we have to squeeze in some space, as long as we are in the first train heading our direction. The uncertainty of not knowing whether there will be a next train or not. Prasa should better their service or just sign the company over to someone who is able to run this service properly. I feel for these guys’ families.”

Metrorail spokeswoman, Riana Scott, appealed to commuters to always use subways or bridges to cross railway lines safely.

“While we empathise with the lack of capacity, it is extremely dangerous to travel between carriages, cling to the front/back of the train or travel on top due to the high voltage of the overhead power supply. Trains operate on fixed infrastructure and cannot take evasive action or stop immediately even if travelling at slow speeds,” she said.

Last month, Metrorail officials told the provincial legislature’s standing committee for transport and public works that it would take two years to start seeing improvements in the crippled rail system.

Ms Scott said the region’s train fleet had been ravaged by vandalism and arson, and since October 2015 it had lost 101 train carriages that would cost R312 million to replace.

This had led to Metrorail in the region operating with 60% of its fleet, punctuality dropping more than 20% and cancellations soaring.

Just last month, 10 people suffered minor to moderate injuries when a train derailed near Bellville station (“10 injured as train derails in Bellville”, Northern News, August 24). Earlier this year, a 19-year-old woman was killed by a rock thrown at the train she was travelling in (“Commuter killed by rock thrown at moving train”, Northern News March 16).

In December last year, Northern News reported on the crippling spike in vandalism plaguing Metrorail, accompanied by a growing number of rail-related fatalities and attacks on staff, including an incident in which three men robbed a female driver at knife-point at Bellville station in November.

Meanwhile, a recent survey by the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry found 92% of businesses believed the Metrorail crisis had worsened over the past year with 71% saying it was much worse.

“About 20% of the respondents said they had even considered relocating their businesses to reduce commuting problems. Eighty percent of respondents said their employees had been robbed and assaulted on the trains during the past 12 months,” said the chamber’s president, Janine Myburgh.

Educational institutions and students had been especially hard hit with both lecturers and students arriving late for classes and exams, she said. Absentee rates had increased and students had been unable to write exams.

There were now fears that the disruptions would have a long-term effect on skills development and careers.

“Businesses are losing money and employees are working shorter days and this reduces their pay packets while hope for an improvement in the situation is fading.”

Ms Scott said on-board vandalism had soared, with 60 to 70 carriages stripped of copper wiring ending up back in workshops each month.

Metrorail had placed an order for 30km of cabling to keep up with the rate of loss.

“We operate trains, we cannot be held solely responsible for reigning in unbridled crime spilling onto our network. We as a rail operator cannot continue to accommodate the failure of society to deal with issues such as housing, electricity, employment, vagrancy and crime,” she said.