Metrorail has blamed criminal elements for the fire that destroyed four carriages at the Woodstock station on Tuesday afternoon, believing commuters who were kicked off the train for not having tickets might be responsible.
As a result of the incident, which occurred during rush hour, thousands of rail commuters at the Cape Town train station were delayed on their homeward trip for hours, or had to resort to other means of transport such as mini-bus taxis.
Condemning criminal elements for the incident, Metrorail regional manager Mthuthuzeli Swartz said the “wanton destruction” of the coaches inconvenienced virtually all rail commuters.
As a result of the sabotage, he said Metrorail was required to “institute lengthy insurance claims to reinstate the assets and this will inevitably contribute to increased insurance premiums,” for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa).
He said the destruction came at a time “when every penny is required to improve services”.
He said the loss of “much-needed capacity” for months to come while the carriages were being repaired and returned to service would place “increased pressure on already stretched demand”.
Swartz said preliminary indications had linked the criminal act to a “special fare recovery action” which had been carried out earlier at Athlone train station where fare invaders got angry after being “offloaded” and fined R40 for traveling without valid tickets.
He suggested that the same people could have jumped on the next train and vented their anger by burning the coaches.
He said the act was no different from robberies and cable theft, highlighting that Metrorail and the police would not rest until the culprits were behind bars.
“We are going to push for harsher sentences – the charges should be attempted murder as customers were placed in danger by such stupidity.
“Now is the time to help us to help you. We are focused on improving services with every means at our disposal,” he said, urging the public to help them to fight rail-related crimes.
He said vandals and fare evaders “are two sides of the same coin, they are criminals, help us remove them from our rail system”.
He urged commuters to buy valid tickets, and repeated that hundreds of people were being removed from trains every month for traveling without a valid ticket.
He said they would be approaching the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to urge them to “elevate” vandalism of trains to crimes such as murder and attempted murder. — Francis Hweshe