Massive blow for train commuters

Challenges for train commuters continued to escalate this week when the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) indefinately suspended trains on its Central line after the killing of a security guard at Chris Hani train station, in Enkanini, Khayelitsha, on Tuesday January 9.

Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott has confirmed that all central line train services have been suspended until further notice due to the recent killing of a security guard at the Chris Hani train station on Tuesday afternoon.

The guard was shot in the throat with his service pistol and died instantly.

Commuters have been asked to find alternative transport.

Thousands of commuters were left stranded on Wednesday morning, January 10, as the announcement of the suspension of train services was only made late on Tuesday night.

Metrorail regional manager Richard Walker conveyed his condolences to the family and collegues of the guard “who lost his life so needlessly”.

Meanwhile the United National Transport Union (UNTU), has threatened that its members would not work in crime-riddled areas.

The union said it had informed the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (PRASA) acting group chief executive officer Cromet Molepo on the day of the incident that its members would, with immediate effect, not be working on the Central line, unless members of the SAPS and more security guards, were present on the trains and the platforms of the stations the trains stopped at.

The murdered security guard, who was working for a private security company contracted by Prasa, was working with Prasa Metro guard Christelle Meyer, 41, on the Metrorail train between Cape Town and Khayelitsha.

“He was such a kind man. He did nobody any harm. This is such a senseless murder. Our lives mean nothing,” said Ms Meyer.

“Each morning when I leave home, I realise that I don’t know if I will see my 20-year-old daughter or my life partner again,” said Ms Meyer.

She told Steve Harris, general secretary of Untu, that the train left the Cape Town station at 4.15pm. At the Heideveld train station, two men pointed a firearm at her and her armed guard.

“He told me to fall down which I did,” she said.

The train continued to the Nyanga train station. “When we stopped at the platform, three armed men got onto the train and robbed several commuters,” said Ms Meyer.

When the train stopped at the Chris Hani station at about 6pm, Ms Meyer and her armed guard had to leave the train at the turnaround back to Cape Town. “I saw there was a commotion at the cabin of the train driver where he and his armed guard got out. The next moment I heard a shot. I turned around and found my armed guard shot,” a deeply traumatised Ms Meyer said.

Ms Meyer said she had been involved in an armed robbery on the Central line three weeks ago when armed robbers overpowered armed guards.

This comes after train services on the Central line had been suspended by Mr Molepo early in December after repeated violent attacks on train crew members despite the presence of armed guards.

Untu applied to the Western Cape High Court in March last year for a court order to force Prasa to adhere to the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Labour Relations Act, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the Constitution to provide a safe working environment for its employees.

Prasa opposed the application, saying the state-owned enterprise can do no more and that police were not assisting the passenger rail service.

Untu also joined SAPS as a respondent in the application. The matter will be heard in the third court term this year.

Meanwhile, Khayelitsha-based NGO, Public Transport Voice (PTV) that tackles matters relating to public transport, has condemned the shooting, sending its heartfelt condolences to the security guard’s family.

Their spokesperson, Dalton Ndongeni said the incident followed a number of incidents in which commuters and Metrorail staff had been targeted by criminals.

He said the organisation had been calling for a safety and security plan from Metrorail and had met with regional manager Richard Walker. “We feel now is the time for us to work together not to throw stones at each other,” Mr Ndongeni said.

The PTV has also called on communities to help protect the train service by reporting crime or other wrongdoing to the relevant authorities.

“The communities know the criminals and they need to know that it is their train service that is being taken over by criminals. We call anyone who has any information regarding this incident to come forward. People must take ownership of the trains. This is public service and the public must be more involved,” he said.

Metrorail said Golden Arrows buses would be made available to offer limited outbound services from Cape Town to Khayelitsha.