The collapse of rail transport is a crime against the poor!

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Dec 22, 2017 No Comments ›› Brett Herron

This morning (30 November) Brett Herron (Mayoral Committee Member for Transport and Urban Development Authority Cape Town) went to assess the conditions for commuters travelling to work each day along one of the most important Metrorail routes – the Central Line between Khayelitsha and the Cape Town CBD.

‘I am appalled and shocked by what I have seen and experienced. The dysfunctional rail service is a crime against the poor to say the least. There is no dignity and no respect for our commuters.

There was no Metrorail staff on site and no communication. Hundreds of women and men had to sit and wait in hope for a train to arrive. The kiosk at the Nolungile station where commuters are supposed to buy tickets was closed and commuters told me that, because of this, they must pay more when they get to their destinations without a ticket.
For the early morning peak commuter time, trains are scheduled to depart from the Nolungile station at 05:19, 05:34; 05:41; 05:49; 05:56 and 06:04am, and scheduled to arrive at Cape Town station 50 to 60 minutes thereafter. I arrived at the Nolungile station just after 05:00 and 50 minutes passed without a single train arriving. During this time, commuters told me their heartbreaking stories of their efforts to get to work and back each day.

A man told me he could not carry any money on him for fear of getting mugged on the train. And when the train does not arrive he must walk back home to fetch money for a minibus-taxi to town. Another gentleman told me that it took him up to six hours to travel from Khayelitsha to his workplace in Simon’s Town.
The first train eventually arrived at about 06:00. To say that it was hugely crowded is an understatement of gross proportions. None of the train windows had panes. People were already hanging from the doors and windows or sitting on the roof when it arrived. I was not able to get onto this train. Commuters were getting onto the train through the open windows as they were desperate to find space in the already packed coaches. One commuter I had been talking to, a bricklayer working in Sea Point, was adamant that he had to get to work by 08:00 and he proceeded to climb on to the roof of the train as he explained he could not take a chance for when the next train might arrive.

That first train pulled out of the station, with commuters crammed inside and hanging out of windows, doorways or riding on the roof so that they could get to work. The other commuters who could not fit in the crowded train were left stranded at the station. I was witness to the desperation, the frustration, angst and fear that many commuters experience because of the very real possibility that they may lose their jobs if they arrive late for work yet again. It was unbearable to witness and it pained me.
We were able to squeeze in to the next train and, an hour after arriving at the station, started our journey to Cape Town central station. During the commute, the stopping between stations added another 45 minutes to the journey – the worst being that there was no communication or announcement whatsoever as to why we were stopping and for how long it would be. At Nyanga station we were told that a commuter was fatally injured – apparently it was a young man who was travelling on the roof. I was shocked to the bone and realized somebody just lost his life because Metrorail is in ruins.

The situation is dire and the failure of rail affects us all. Commuters abandoning unsafe, unreliable rail switch to more expensive bus, taxi or private car transport options. This adds to their transport costs, it causes more road congestion, and inhibits transport and economic growth as the costs and time of commuting rise. Commuters who remain on rail endure indignities, lose their jobs and, as we have seen today, literally risk their lives to get to work each day. It is in ALL of our interests that rail services are stabilised and improved.

I will do everything within my power to get the trains under the City’s management in order to safeguard our residents and ensure the sustainability of our city.’


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