Parties square off over train drain

The southern line, which includes Woodstock station, was closed for a week recently because of copper-cable theft and damage.

The collapse of Cape Town’s rail service has become an election issue, with the DA’s mayoral candidate, Geordin Hill-Lewis, vowing to stoke efforts to wrest control of it from national government.

Good party mayoral candidate Brett Herron countered, saying he proposed getting private investors to prop up Metrorail, five years ago.

With municipal elections looming, Mr Hill-Lewis spoke at Woodstock train station last week about the party’s pledge to have the City of Cape Town take over the running of the Metrorail service.

Candidates campaigning in wards along the southern line were there and voiced their concerns about the condition of the rail service.

The southern line was shut down for a week recently because of cable theft and damage.

Mr Lewis said: “We are committed to intensifying our fight to take control over Cape Town’s train system. We believe that the boundaries of the constitution have not been properly tested on this matter yet. Municipal public transport is an area of local government competence.”

He referred to Section 156 (5) of the constitution which states that a municipality “has the right to exercise any power concerning a matter reasonably necessary for, or incidental to, the effective performance of its functions”.

Mr Lewis said: “According to an analysis we have done, we can report that Metrorail has collapsed to such a staggering extent that 64% of Capetonians living in wards that previously had access to passenger rail services have now lost that access. Today, only 36% of residents still have access to a working train station in the ward where they live.”

Poverty created the temptation for thieves to steal copper from the train line because they could sell it for money, but the cost of the crime to the country was so much than the actual value of the copper, he said.

Private investors should be allowed to take responsibility for some parts of Metrorail to make the commuter service viable again, he said.

Brett Herron, the Good party’s mayoral candidate and the City’s former mayoral committee member of transport, said the idea of getting private investors on board was not new. He claimed to have proposed it to council in October 2017.

“The rail network is vast, extensive and too easily accessible,” said Mr Herron. “It is impossible for security to be everywhere at once. The solution lies in modernising the signalling system to shift away from cabling and copper wire. The solution also lies in development along the rail reserve where this is possible, since this will enable eyes and ears over the infrastructure but also create a hard barrier to access.”

There were new signalling systems available that did not use copper wire or cables, he said.

“The entire train line network is vulnerable because it has always been a fairly accessible network. The southern line, particularly, had challenges over the past few years, which include deteriorating rail tracks between Muizenberg and Simon’s Town, degradation and soil erosion undermining the safety of operations in some parts and theft of cables supporting the signalling system.”

DA Ward 115 candidate Ian McMahon accused the national government of failing to invest in safety measures to protect the train infrastructure.

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) and Metrorail should do more to protect their assets, such as replacing the stolen copper cables, fixing the fences and putting up cameras.

“It’s truly hoped that we as a province and City can start to manage and invest in the infrastructure of the railway system,” he said.

DA Ward 59 candidate Mikhail Manuel said: “All along the southern line, anyone can enter the railway line so easily and do whatever they wish. The slow degradation of the infrastructure after each incident is crippling the ability for the railway system to be restored.”

Metrorail spokeswoman Nana Zenani said Prasa was monitoring areas prone to vandalism but law enforcement needed to work with Prasa to stop copper cable crimes.

“Prasa’s infrastructure is under siege not only on the southern line but everywhere,” she said.

Prasa had attended to service interruptions on the southern line and its security guards had intercepted a recent act of vandalism between Simon’s Town and Fish Hoek, she said.

Ms Zenani said she could not comment on the possibility of Metrorail being run by local government or the possibility of private investors being brought on board.

Broken pylons near Glencairn station on the southern line.
Red line are trains not running, yellow line are trains running and the blue line are train infrastructure not built yet.