Commuters loot, set alight trains

People who travel to and from the city centre by train were left stranded again after a group of frustrated Metrorail commuters set eight train carriages of two trains alight and looted several shops at the station on Monday June 12.

The torching of trains occurred after hundreds of irate customers were left stranded when Metrorail experienced difficulty with their electric power feeds, which led to major delays on Monday afternoon.

Megas Home, a kitchen appliance store inside Cape Town station, received damages to its window.

Store owner, Mahlet Muluget, arrived to her store the morning after the incident but had not yet been contacted by authorities regarding the damages. Her store is located across from MTN which was one of the most damaged stores.

“We have no idea, we just came in this morning and saw this. This morning I have to attend to a lot of customers and I lose the day. Thank God, I’m protected and nothing is happening inside.”

Metrorail spokeswoman Riana Scott said the delays resulted from defective 11kv electrical feeds. “Metrorail usually has four 11kv power feeds available to it to operate the train service.

“Between 2pm and 8pm (on Monday), two of the four feeds were not functional, overloading the remaining two feeds which tripped electricity and halted trains all over the network,” she said.

“The defective power feed at Maitland in particular affected all routes and ruled out the usual contingency of manual authorisation due to the high volume of trains on the network during peak.

“Some trains were delayed more than two hours. The trains operating on the Monte Vista line and to the southern suburbs also eventually could not operate.”

She said technicians managed to restore power feeds at 8:52pm and trains started to operate, but the entire service had to be stopped after the trains were set alight.

Police were called to the scene to disperse crowds and maintain order. “Alternative bus transport was provided to assist commuters but were refused.

“Golden Arrow Bus Service assisted weekly and monthly ticket holders off-peak on routes operated by them and will continue to do so.”

Metrorail’s regional manager, Richard Walker, said commuters were bearing the brunt of the thuggery and that Metrorail’s already reduced capacity would be further depleted. “This incident sets Prasa’s rail accelerated service improvement plans back significantly and innocent commuters would suffer most as a result.

“Commuters should note platform changes which will result in delays as trains scheduled to use platforms 15 and 16 will have to be accommodated at alternative platforms,” he said.

Mr Walker apologised to affected customers but condemned the destruction of property: “We acknowledge that commuters have legitimate service concerns but we can never condone criminality”.

On Tuesday morning, there were several cancellations on the Central, Northern, Cape Flats and Southern line “due to sets out of service” and delays of 30 to 40 minutes.

“The torching of two trains at Cape Town station impacts the train service.

“Platform 15 and 16 are currently out of service for train operations. Commuters are advised to listen for platform changes via the public address system and view changes on the electronic display boards,” Ms Scott said.

Mr Walker said surveillance footage would be studied with the intention of filing charges of malicious damage to property.

Several shops were damaged and looted in the concourse and access gates destroyed.

SAPS and protection services had to disperse crowds and one suspect was apprehended.

Ms Scott did not respond to questions from the CapeTowner about the damaged stores, or if they were responsible for its repairs.

At the of going to print, Ms Scott confirmed that platform 14 and 17 had been reopened, while platforms 15 and 16 remained closed to permit the removal of burnt wrecks.

She also said clean-up operations were progressing after six retailers, the concourse and three access gates were damaged. Preventive measures for this afternoon include the beefing up of security measures to protect passengers, employees and facilities. The operating environment has also been cleared of smoke and debris.

“The damaged train-sets were designated to the Cape Flats and Central services respectively. Their forced withdrawal will not immediately reflect on the electronic timetables at Cape Town Station and customers are advised to listen to station announcements to ensure they board the correct trains.

“All lines can expect delays due to the prevailing service conditions; the sharing of platforms while 15 and 16 are out of commission will inevitably impact on other trains’ arrival and departure slots as platforms would have to be shared. Trains may be placed in a holding pattern outside Cape Town Station for this reason.”

Additional reporting by the Cape Times