Serious incidents that have taken place on South Africa’s rail network, causing huge disruption and potentially endangering life, appear to show no sign of letting up after the suspected arson of a train at Cape Town station destroyed 11 carriages. Estimated to cost 30 million Rand (£1.7 million), the Cape Town fire is not the first to have happened in the country and follows similar occurrences that have led to vandalised and burnt-out trains.
So serious is the turbulent situation situation in the country, the department that oversees rail – Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) – has reportedly postponed an order to upgrade Cape Town’s fleet of ageing trains. Details of the incident are described as “sketchy” by Prasa, however the United National Transport Union (UNTU) in South Africa said it was the “fifth time train coaches belonging to Prasa have been torched while it was approaching stations in recent months”.
Prasa chairperson Khanyisile Kweyama said the latest problems, which have yet to be proved as criminal, has set the Western Cape’s rail network back some distance and will hit commuters hard. “If there is an element of criminality surrounding this latest incident, it is the most senseless act against the only public transport system that is affordable to the masses of commuters who rely on this service,” said Kweyama, as reported in South African media.
Photos were posted on social media in June that showed three carriages of a commuter train engulfed in flames at a station south of Cape Town, Steenberg, with fire teams in attendance attempting to bring it under control. The latest press release on the Prasa website is of an official opening of construction work by Jacob Zuma, the former South African leader who resigned in February 2018.
In February, SmartRail World’s sister title, Transport Security World, reported on Cape Town’s plan to introduce a series of major changes to make its network safer, with bulletproof walls, drones and security staff. Prasa said it intended to spend around 90 million Rand (£5.5 million) on the measures that would see the installation of two 15km-long bulletproof walls, the flying of drones to police criminal activity in the area and the deployment of 1,500 security staff funded by half of the overall budget.
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