Rampant vandalism and metal theft have eroded the punctuality and reliability of Cape Town’s commuter trains, but not without push-back against the crooks, says Metrorail.
Riana Scott, the spokeswoman for the commuter-service arm of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), says beefed-up security measures and tougher laws are not only putting more vandals and thieves behind bars, they’re putting them there for longer.
Prasa, according to Ms Scott, has the highest conviction rate in the Western Cape, where metal theft and vandalism have hammered the commuter rail service.
The Rail Enforcement Unit (REU) arrested nine suspects and inspected 147 hot spot areas and scrapyards just this past week, while Metrorail Protection Services made nine arrests and successfully opposed bail for 25 suspects during court appearances.
Ms Scott said Metrorail Western Cape had the highest arrest-and-conviction rate for cable theft, and 370 suspects had been caught since March 2018, with 29 cases having gone to court in the past 15 months. Another 135 court cases were in Western Cape courts, she said.
The Criminal Matters Amendment Act, introduced in 2015, meant bail could be opposed in cable-theft cases, she said. There were stricter bail conditions and it cost more, and terms of incarceration were also longer.
Bail had been denied in every case of cable theft brought by Prasa, she said, and suspects spent between 53 and 321 days in an awaiting-trial custody – the average detention period was 136 days.
“Perpetrators have started to pay the price for their actions. The majority admit guilt due to the overwhelming evidence presented against them. Admission of guilt generally carries a 12-year sentence, six of which are suspended for five years.”
She said sentences ranged from R3 000 fines to 30-year jail terms.
“A total of 235 years and six months jail terms have been imposed over the past 15 months,” she said.
Ms Scott was responding to Simon’s Town resident Steph Mellor’s complaints about the coaches’ shocking state of disrepair.
She took the train with one of her daughters on Mother’s Day, Sunday May 12, to meet her other children in Kalk Bay and found the seats slashed, graffiti so bad she could not see out the windows and no security in sight on carriages with no lights.
Ms Scott encouraged the public to report any incidents on trains and at stations, no matter how insignificant.
Felicity Purchase, the mayoral committee member for transport, said: “The arrests in terms of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act are very important because this act provides for stricter bail conditions and harsher sentences, including up to 30 years’ imprisonment for those caught and convicted for destruction of essential infrastructure.
“The purpose of this act is to ensure that those who undermine and sabotage our urban rail service stay behind bars for a long time. The more arrests we make the better our chances of stabilising the rail service and ensuring that the trains arrive and depart on time. “This is ultimately what we want to achieve: to restore our commuters’ faith in rail so that more commuters shift from road-based transport to passenger rail.”