Platforms inoperable after fire

A fire destroyed 11 carriages and other Metrorail infrastructure at Cape Town station on Saturday.

Platforms 15 and 16 at Cape Town station will remain closed until further notice as a result of damage following the fire that destroyed motor and passenger coaches on Saturday July 21.

The City of Cape Town’s fire and rescue services spokesperson, Theo Layne, said the fire broke out at 4pm but was quickly contained by firefighters. He said 11 carriages were destroyed in the fire and no injuries were reported.

In a statement, Metrorail said in addition to the loss of crucial capacity, 160 metres of overhead electrical wire was damaged.

Forensic teams combed the area for clues after the fire and later structural engineers assessed the infrastructure before mop up crews could remove the damaged trains.

The trains involved formed part of the northern fleet and the loss of vital trains will impact adversely on an area already under strain.

Regional manager Richard Walker condemned the incident, saying the loss would significantly slow the service recovery process.

“Loyal commuters reliant on rail transport have once again been dealt a blow.”

He said Metrorail was working closely with SAPS to investigate the incident and encouraged anyone with information or footage of the event to report it to the police.

“The rail service in Cape Town is reeling under the loss of capacity since the start of the year,” he said.

Commuters were advised to expect cancellations in the slots usually served by these two train-sets, platform changes and revised arrival and departure times at Cape Town station as trains using platforms 15 and 16 are slotted into alternative platforms.

“We call on anyone with information or footage to share this with the police to assist them to bring the guilty to book. The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA’s) recovery efforts and modernisation progress is directly affected and the public’s safety compromised by these incidents.”

All reports are investigated, treated in strictest confidence and many contribute to successful prosecution.

Rewards of up to R25 000 are payable for information leading to successful convictions. Mr Layne said the cause of the fire is still undetermined.

Meanwhile, the United National Transport Union (UNTU) called on Police Minister Bheki Cele to appoint a task team to investigative who is behind the ongoing arson attacks on Metrorail trains in Cape Town.

Steve Harris, General Secretary of UNTU said: “If the South African Police Service (SAPS) won’t take immediate action to protect the trains of Prasa, a state-owned enterprise that is like the South African Airways (SAA) funded with taxpayer’s money, there will not be enough coaches left in the Western Cape to provide any service to commuters in Cape Town.

“More than a million workers in the Western Cape rely on trains to get to and from work each month. The overcrowding of trains in the Western Cape due to the shortage of train coaches are already so bad, that officials of the SAPS are not even prepared to work on the trains on the notorious Central Line in peak time as they will not be safe carrying their service pistols.”

The torching of the trains at Cape Town station is the fifth time train coaches belonging to Prasa in the Western Cape have been torched while they were approaching stations in recent months.

Mr Harris said the same modus operandi is used every time.

He said this crisis was one of the issues faced by Prasa which UNTU had hoped to discuss with Transport Minister Blade Nzimande when the Union requested an urgent meeting with him after his appointment in February.

He called on communities and commuters to report suspects to the toll-free number of the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) on 0800 444 888.