Today, Premier Helen Zille visited the Metro Police Training Academy, where 71 Rail Enforcement Officers are currently being trained on rail commuter safety and infrastructure protection.
The Premier was accompanied by the City of Cape Town’s MAYCO Members for Safety and Security and Social Services, Alderman JP Smith; Transport and Urban Development, Councillor Brett Herron.
The training of the Rail Enforcement Officers forms part of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), signed earlier this year between the provincial Public Works and Transport Department, PRASA and the City of Cape Town.
A total of 100 Rail Enforcement Officers are meant to be trained as part of the MOA, at a projected cost of R48 million per annum to operationalize this Unit.
The City and provincial government have gone outside of their constitutional mandates to contribute R16 million each, but PRASA has still not paid their share. The training is proceeding for 71 officers with the funding available from Province and City.
“Although Metrorail is the sole responsibility of the National Government, the training of these officers demonstrates the City and provincial government’s commitment to protecting rail commuters and safeguarding the city’s vital rail infrastructure. PRASA has still not made their R16 million contribution, nor have they provided a timeline as to when they will,” said Premier Zille.
Arson damage to trains has amounted to over R500 million to date, with 148 coaches burnt in 32 incidents since October 2015. Prasa requires 88 train sets to run an effective service. The available sets are now down to below 40 — fewer than half the number required – due to arson, cable theft, and vandalism.
“Train arson attacks are increasing, but SAPS have made only two arrests and secured no convictions in 10 years for this crime. Train burning is grand economic sabotage, and the question must be asked: where is Crime Intelligence? There have been 30 forensic investigations, but all have been declared “undetected,” with no outcome. Next week we are meeting the SAPS and Justice sector top brass to probe the reasons for the broken criminal justice pipeline,” said Premier Zille.
Commuters have also faced direct safety risks. Between 2015 and 2017, 32 murders and 114 incidents of assaults were reported on trains or in stations in the province, with only 12 arrests for murders and 59 arrests for assaults.
“Our urban rail service and the commuters who use it are under siege. Just last week one person was murdered and several others injured after they were robbed and thrown off the train, while earlier this year there have been numerous arson attacks. The Rail Enforcement Unit is desperately needed. Apart from commuter safety and vandalism, it will also focus on the theft of crucial Metrorail infrastructure and assets,” said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security; and Social Services, Alderman JP Smith.
Safety concerns and train delays have caused people to abandon the Metrorail service in huge numbers. In 2014, over 608 000 people used trains daily in Cape Town. By 2017 this number halved to 316 000. There is a direct link between the dysfunctional rail system and congestion on our roads.
Councillor Brett Herron, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Transport and Urban Development, said: “Rail commuters in Cape Town are among the most vulnerable in our society. The majority are from low-income households and cannot afford other modes of public transport. I have personally experienced the inhumane conditions that they are facing on a daily basis – from waiting for hours for trains that are either delayed, or cancelled, and travelling in carriages that are overloaded and extremely dangerous because the doors cannot close.
Some are robbed of their hard-earned daily wages, others are losing their jobs due to the unreliability of the service, and some have even lost their lives. The formation of the Rail Enforcement Unit is the first step in addressing the relentless attacks and sabotage of our rail infrastructure. Our commuters deserve a service that is safe, reliable and dignified.”
The Rail Enforcement Officers are expected to be deployed to the rail network in October, after their training is complete.