Metrorail trains set alight

Above: A fire gutted three trains in Kraaifontein and caused damage to overhead electrical cabling.

Metrorail has warned of delays on the northern line after fire engulfed three trains at a Kraaifontein rail yard at the weekend.

The fire, on Saturday April 15, damaged 11 coaches, completely destroying eight of them.

Metrorail said it was “too early to speculate” on the cause of the fire but police were investigating, and damage could run into tens of millions of rands.

Adding to Metrorail’s and commuters’ woes, are threats of a looming strike by rail unions, after another round of failed wage talks.

United National Transport Union (UNTU) spokeswoman Sonja Carstens said they had declared a dispute in March after halving their demand for a 20% increase.

The union had met with Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) bosses at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on Tuesday April 11 where it had been granted a certificate of non-resolution.

The outcome of a strike ballot should be known by Friday April 21, Ms Carstens said.

Just last week, Golden Arrow drivers joined a nationwide bus strike after wage talks deadlocked, leaving about 220 000 of the bus company’s passengers stranded.

The strike was called off after a wage agreement was reached. Golden Arrow said on Friday April 14 that services would resume on Saturday April 15.

“However due to the Easter break and the unexpected speedy resolution of the strike, a skeleton staff will be on duty,” the company said.

Four trains were torched on Thursday December 1 last year at Thornton station on the northern line, bringing the number of carriages torched at the time to 69 since October 2015 (“Metrorail wrecks pile up,” Northern News, December 8 2016).

Three carriages were also destroyed on the northern line in September, after angry commuters torched a train travelling between Bellville and Tygerberg station (“Train driver flees angry commuters,” Northern News, September 29 2016)

Metrorail has asked anyone with information to come forward.

Responding to the latest incident, Metrorail’s regional manager, Richard Walker, said: “We condemn the continued sabotage of state assets.

“It is unfortunate that the worst affected will be our commuters coming from the poorer communities on the northern line corridor who can only afford the Metrorail train service as a means of public transport and mobility.”

Mr Walker said the deliberate destruction of train carriages sabotaged Metrorail’s efforts to meet passenger demand.

“Moreover, it negatively impacts our recovery programme to bring back reliability and availability of the train service in the Western Cape.”