Metrorail activists want rail crisis to be declared a national disaster

Activist group #UniteBehind has called for Minister of Transport Blade Nzimande to declare the rail crisis a national disaster, GroundUp reports.

The commuter activist group has also asked for an emergency meeting to be convened by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee of Transport to “address governance, management, safety and security” on Metrorail. The organisation has also called for an urgent plan to address commuter-centred safety.

This follows arson attacks on numerous trains across Cape Town and an attack on passengers between Lynedoch and Eerste River on Friday evening that left one passenger dead and eight others injured, as well as an incident in Johannesburg in which about 100 commuters were injured.

#UniteBehind wrote to Nzimande in late August and made the letter public on Wednesday. The organisation also sent a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa on August 1, asking that commuter rail be declared a national disaster.

Security plan

In the letter to Nzimande, #UniteBehind asked for a stable and permanent Prasa board, the adoption of a reasonable safety and security plan that is commuter centred, a rapid emergency maintenance plan to bring damaged coaches into service, and alternative transport for all commuters during delays and cancellations.

“Armed robbery, sexual assaults, sitting on windows, hanging on doors, riding the roof and fires caused by sabotage directly affects thousands of people. The very contemplation of their train journey, whether to hospitals, schools, work, the beach or to visit relatives, strikes fear into their hearts.

“Working-class commuters carry the burden of spatial apartheid and violence, low-incomes, the high costs of public transport, and the crushing weight of state capture mismanagement and incompetence,” said the letter.

The City of Cape Town, the Western Cape government and Prasa signed an agreement to form a unit to improve security on Metrorail train lines in May this year. This followed an agreement reached at a rail summit in February.

#UniteBehind said that in a meeting held with Prasa on August 21, it was given an assurance that the adoption of a commuter safety plan would be given priority and that there would be engagement on the Western Cape recovery plan.

The letter also called for Donald Grant, Western Cape MEC for Transport and Public Works, to insist that disaster was declared in relation to commuter rail.

Spokesperson for Grant Siphesihle Dube, responded: “Declaring commuter rail a disaster is not a competency of the Western Cape MEC for Transport and Public Works, but is the competency of the national Minister of Transport, Dr Blade Nzimande. Prasa is an entity of the national department, not the provincial department.”

“Despite it not being part of our mandate, the Western Cape government and the City of Cape Town have dedicated resources towards finding solutions for the many issues that plague passenger rail in the Cape,” said Dube.

GroundUp tried to obtain responses from Nzimande as well as Dikeledi Magadzi, chairperson of the Portfolio Committee of Transport. Neither gave comment by the time of publication.

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