South Africa

Challenges remain as Metrorail slowly gets back on track

Cape Town - As I approached Claremont station I expected the usual long line to the ticket office. But there were no commuters in sight.

But before I could get to the ticket office, an assistant was on hand to sanitise my hands. At only R7.50 - a huge saving in comparison to other public transport - I was ready for the trip.

On Thursday, Metrorail brought back a limited service on the Southern line after weeks of closure due to the national lockdown.

Past the boarding gates, the platform has been laid out differently, with clear markings of where commuters should stand. However, there were no other passengers, not even security guards on the platform.

Within minutes, a train arrived and I joined six other passengers in a coach clearly marked where each passenger could sit or stand within social-distancing protocols. A stark difference from Metrorail’s usually packed carriages with passenger hanging from the side of the trains. 

Neither were any passengers standing in between coaches or “train surfing”.

Video: Courtney Africa/African News Agency

“I’m glad that the trains are operating again,” said Sinako Ncapayi, who sat a few metres away from me.

“The ride from Retreat has been pleasant, but it’s taking forever to reach Cape Town. I remember when it only took 30 to 35 minutes from Steenberg station. Gradually that became an hour or even longer.”

It took 14 minutes for the train to travel between Salt River and Cape Town stations with a few stops.

Another passenger who would not give his name was equally impressed with the “new layout on the platform and inside the coaches”.

“I’m hoping for a better service,” he said as he stared at broken seats. “Ultimately the success will depend on how they’re able to provide a service that will make us reach our destinations on time, safely.”

Frustration among some passengers persisted. “The train was late. There were no security guards, I had to change coaches to one that had more passengers so I could feel safe”, said another.

When we arrived at the Cape Town station, cleaning staff sanitised the train as we got off.

Between Wednesday and Thursday, 1066 passengers used the service, according to Metrorail. Metrorail has reimagined its coaches and services in response to the pandemic but the service is yet to properly be tested when more trains are brought back from Monday.

Long before Metrorail was hit by the lockdown, it was plagued by challenges such as cable theft and arson incidents, fewer train sets, train breakdowns and overcrowded trains, and the on-time rate was poor.  

Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott said all the operational difficulties and constraints pre-lockdown still affected the provision of stable services. 

“During lockdown, in addition to metal theft and vandalism, the region suffered tampering, looting, destruction of facilities. 

“Some offices, depots and staff facilities were burgled and electronic infrastructure tampered with, which account for the stops in section - in many sections manual or electronic authorisation is necessary,” Scott said.

Currently the region is operating with as little as 40% of personnel and that will continue until the virus no longer presents a threat .

This weekend, authorities will assess the three-day trial operations and amend the Cape Town-Retreat limited service accordingly.

Weekend Argus

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