Pupils blamed for train arson

SOYISO MALITI

Pupils may have been behind the fire on a Metrorail train that left two carriages damaged in Muldersvlei on Thursday afternoon, May 26, according to accounts by security guards and witnesses.

Muizenberg resident, Jean Greene, who is visiting her daughter in Muldersvlei, said she saw a girl throw a blazer into the train.

Moments later, smoke bellowed from the train and, before they knew it, the carriages were on fire.

“One girl with a maroon skirt and a white shirt was standing there, and the next thing she threw something I couldn’t see in the train. But another (resident) said it was her blazer.”

Ms Greene said she suspects the girls had been smoking. She said everything happened very quickly.

“I saw her turn, throw something and laugh.”

Soon after, she heard a scream but an arriving train obstructed her and she didn’t see in which direction the pupils ran off.

Security guards said they saw about 10 pupils run in the direction of the Stellenbosch track as flames engulfed the train, damaging a plant and blackening a set of wine barrels hoisted by a steel structure on the platform.

Commuters were left stranded at the interchange station for Kraaifontein, Stellenbosch and Wellington routes on Thursday afternoon.

On Friday afternoon, security guards had been waiting for the suspected culprits. Later, a replacement train appeared and the security guards approached a group of pupils to question them about the incident that occurred the afternoon before.

Security guards said the Northern News couldn’t take pictures of the scene. An argument could be heard when security spoke to the pupils.

Riana Scott, spokeswoman for Metrorail, said a case of malicious damage to property had been opened. There were no injuries reported. She said SAPS has interviewed eyewitnesses.

Ms Scott said the total cost of carriages lost to vandalism from April 2014 to April 2016 ran up to R198 million. Asked if the northern line – along Kuils River, Bellville and Kraaifontein – is among the most problematic lines in the Western Cape – Ms Scott said the tracks north of Kraaifontein Station – and owned by Transnet – were problematic owing to the freight company’s maintenance plans.

She said these were biased towards Transnent’s core business, which is freight.

“Their business focus is often in direct contradiction to Metrorail passengers’ needs.

“Their response teams for instance, are decentralised, taking longer to reach breakdowns within their operating areas and resulting in much longer periods to restore services.”

Asked if pupils may have set the train alight, Ms Scott said: “The police are investigating and any claims or rumours will form part of that.”

Police had not confirmed the incident at the time of going to print.