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Chaos on the trains

Conditions on the local trains on the northern line remain chaotic.

Bands of robbers wreak havoc on overfull trains where drugs are being used openly, while frightened commuters with no alternative public transport are forced to endure this lawlessness on a daily basis.

As the newly established Rail Enforcement Unit (REU) started reporting on its weekly successes last week, TygerBurger spoke to rail commuters from Brackenfell and Kuils River, who maintain that members of this unit are still “invisible” on the northern line.

During the last week of January the REU (a combined force between the City of Cape Town, Metrorail and the Provincial Government) conducted 81 inspections, arrested seven people and issued fines to the value of R9100 during stop-and-search actions at train stations and on trains along the northern and southern lines of the city.

In the northern suburbs the unit was joined by the Parow police.

Arrests were made mainly for the possession of drugs and stolen property, theft and malicious damage to property, and one for robbery with a weapon other than a firearm, according to a statement made by the unit last week. Weapons confiscated during the operations included knives and imitation firearms.

Felicity Purchase, Mayco member for transport and urban development, told TygerBurger that the operation also covered the areas on the lines between stations in an attempt to catch cable thieves.

In this regard 125m of copper railway signal cable, 60m of telephone cable, 6kg of copper cable, 37m of core cable, one hacksaw, a pair of pliers and a cutter were confiscated.

In total 491 stop-and-search actions were conducted, along with 81 hotspot inspections and 52 public assistance actions.

Purchase said she was pleased with the steady progress made by the REU.

Metrorail Western Cape regional manager Richard Walker added that it was gratifying to notice the inroads made into criminal incidents affecting the rail service.

“The proceeds of crime can be termed the third economy in the Cape and we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. The crime bosses will not relinquish profitable businesses easily and we should be aware that at best we displace crime from one area to another. Without the assistance of all spheres of law enforcement and active community vigilance, the battle will not be easily won,” he said.

But local commuters on the northern line say they haven’t seen much of this unit at stations or on trains, nor have conditions on trains improved.

Elmera* from Kuils River said this unit is not visible at all between Bellville and Cape Town.

“I only noticed them on the central line platform last week,” she told TygerBurger.

“I take the Kuils River Express, Strand and Muldersvlei trains and have never seen them on these trains. Often you find people who smoke dagga on the trains, and it is overcrowded with many passengers not even having tickets. This is the norm.”

Rosemary Watney, who travels from Kuils River, agrees.

“I have not seen them on the northern line at all, only at Cape Town Station. I saw them at Bellville Station only once,” she said.

An anonymous commuter said many of the recent violent crimes reported in the news took place on the northern line.

“It is evident that the northern line requires some sort of protection service, which has not been made available. People openly do drugs on the trains and rob commuters on the platforms.

“It is just one chaotic situation with no help in sight,” she said.

Heidi*, who also takes the the Xplus daily from Kuils River, said she has also never seen members of the REU.

“On the Xplus there is a guy sitting there every morning sorting out his dagga,” she said.

Catherine* said a colleague of hers was killed on the train two weeks ago, while on his way home.

“Some of my other work colleagues are now taking taxis. There is no other safe form of public transport for Kuils River,” she said.

According to Neil Theys, commuters in Eerste River and Blue Downs have the same problem.

“Gangs of men and women rob commuters during peak times in the morning and afternoon. The women are more brazen than the men. Hotspot stations include Elsies River to Kuils River and beyond to Eerste River. We are safe nowhere,” he said.

Rita* takes the train from Brackenfell to Cape Town every morning and evening.

“I saw the REU on the platform at Brackenfell Station once, but never on the train. I take the Metro Plus train where they used to check tickets, but not anymore. I pay R350 to stand the whole way while Metro ticket holders (who are not supposed to be on this train) take up all the seats,” she said.

She has also not noticed any improvement in law enforcement on the train.

“In the evening when other trains are cancelled, all the third-class commuters stand packed in first class. On Monday evening a gentleman had to pull me by my arm to get me safely out of the train at Brackenfell Station because I was being shoved around and back into the train as I tried to get out,” she said.

At the time of going to print TygerBurger had not yet received any comment from the City or Metrorail regarding the above statements.

*Identity protected

To report illicit and suspicious activity on train lines in the northern suburbs, contact the Bellville office on 021 941 6800 or the radio control room on 021 449 4309..

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