Reports of yet another train fire in Cape Town have flooded social media, with eyewitnesses citing black smoke billowing from the city’s Central Station.
As reported by News24, Khanyisile Kweyama, board chairperson of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), confirmed that platforms 16 and 17 at Cape Town station are on fire.
Luckily, City of Cape Town firefighters arrived on the scene and managed to quell the blaze before it could spread to other trains and rail infrastructure. Reports indicate that at least one train was completely gutted by fire.
Investigators are currently on scene to determine the cause of the fire. Unconfirmed reports have stated that a suspect has already been taken into custody.
Prasa appears before Parliament to discuss arson attacks
Ironically, this latest train fire occurred just hours before Prasa executives were expected to brief Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Transport. This briefing was due to focus on the vicious attacks on MetroRail passengers and trains in the Western Cape.
MetroRail Cape Town has been plagued by a brutal onslaught of arson attacks which have effectively crippled train operations in the city.
MetroRail services crippled by train fires
Over the past three years, more than 150 MetroRail carriages have been destroyed due to arson and vandalism, with 2018 proving to be the most devastating year yet. Walker confirmed that, in this year alone, 40 coaches had been destroyed so far, with the cost of damages exceeding R100 million.
City officials note that at least 88 functioning trains are required to service Cape Town and surrounds. Worryingly, MetroRail’s Western Cape fleet currently totals only 42 function trains.
Transport Minister points to organised crime
National Transport Minister Blade Nzimande has also pointed to ‘serious organised crime’ as being behind the attacks, saying:
“There are ordinary criminals who are actually vandalising trains‚ there’s copper theft and all that‚ but also at the same time there are elements of serious organised crime. We are talking to the police now to establish whether there are any commercial benefits to the people who burn trains.”
Worryingly, despite ongoing investigations into arson attacks on MetroRail’s trains, few solid answers have come to light. As a proactive measure to guard against further attacks, the city is in the process of deploying 100 railway police, tasked with protecting MetroRail infrastructure.