Union wants rail boss to resign

Desperate commuters squeeze onto the joining links between carriages on overfull trains on the Kuils River line.

A transport union wants the regional manager of the country’s rail operator to resign after frustrated commuters torched trains and went on the rampage at Cape Town station on Monday.

At the same time, a prominent leader of the business community has said that long-suffering rail commuters are paying the price for rampant corruption costing billions of rands in SA’s rail sector.

Metrorail passengers continued to face a torturous gauntlet of delays on Tuesday June 13 after Monday’s chaos that saw trains dangerously overloaded and knock-on traffic congestion across the city.

Trains were originally delayed, region-wide, by a defective electrical feed, Metrorail said in a statement. Minutes after this was fixed, two trains were torched at Cape Town station, destroying eight carriages and causing structural damage to platforms 14 and 15, which were closed.

United National Transport Union (UNTU) general secretary Steve Harris said commuters had torched the trains out of frustration “after they had to wait more than four hours in the freezing cold and rainy conditions to get a ride home”.

Trains had been standing empty on the platforms from about 2pm on Monday, he said.

“Metrorail did not warn commuters about the problem for hours. Commuters got agitated as the queues grew longer with rush hour approaching,” he said.

Some of the commuters had attacked Pasenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) staff and damaged property.

Janine Myburgh, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce, said Metrorail’s problems were rooted in corruption.

According to Ms Myburgh, leaked Transnet and the Prasa emails revealed “strange deals” and “middlemen” had milked billions of rands out of funds intended for the buying of trains.

“This is corruption of the worst kind and the people of Cape Town are feeling the pain. We even had a chief engineer with fake qualifications involved in the ordering of the Spanish locomotives that proved to be unsuitable for our narrow rail tracks,” Ms Myburgh said.

Untu demanded that Metrorail’s regional manager, Richard Walker, resign “because of his incompetence”.

“Untu has repeatedly warned Prasa that this situation is a tragedy waiting to happen. Action must be taken now before more innocent people die,” Mr Harris said.

Metrorail apologised for the delays but said stranded commuters were bearing the brunt of “thuggery”.

“This incident sets Prasa Rail Accelerated Service Improvement Plans back significantly and innocent commuters would suffer most as a result,” Mr Walker said.

He condemned the destruction of property.

“We acknowledge that commuters have legitimate service concerns, but we can never condone criminality”.