Metrorail misery

Recently, Cape Town Metrorail commuters have been subjected to more than just the customary overcrowded carriages, which during rush hour make sardine cans seem spacious.

A few weeks ago there were delays of an hour or more thanks to cable thieves having vandalised a signal box at Woodstock station. Thankfully the bastards were caught.

Then two weeks ago storm damage along the line down to Simonstown resulted in more delays. With resignation that stems from a complete inability to do anything about the circumstances, I plugged into my iPod and delved into the unfinished paperback in my rucksack.

However, on facing the return journey, I must confess my serenity evaporated. Commuters waiting to go home were subjected to a string of garbled announcements at Cape Town station declaring that a train on the Simonstown line was delayed. While the announcer deigned to apologise for the inconvenience (they always do), she failed to reveal when the next train would be departing, nor which platform it would be leaving from. So, confusion inevitably reigned, with commuters frantically running from one train to another, praying they would end up on the right one before it slipped away.

I made it onto the right train in the end, but was overwhelmed by yet another show of the implicit contempt that Metrorail has for its customers. Ineffectual communication is exacerbated by an apparent dearth of contingency planning. Metrorail never seems to have a plan B so that when the proverbial hits the fan there’s someone able to clean it up – and fast! Of course cable theft and storm damage isn’t the service’s fault. But that does not excuse making a complete mess in responding to those crises.

Sadly Metrorail commuters can’t vote with their feet, because for most of them (including me) that would literally mean walking to work (or, in my case, college). Unless of course we took the bus – but considering that most of those seem to be manhandled by kamikaze learner drivers with a penchant for driving off bridges, that is hardly an option.

A commuter’s wish list:

1. More trains, more often: a timetable with gaps no longer than 15 minutes between trains to avoid long waits and overcrowding.

2. Security and CCTV monitoring along railway tracks and at stations to ensure vandalism and crime (like crippling cable theft) is kept to an absolute minimum.

3. Adequate maintenance: the railways’ ageing infrastructure means the network is fragile and delays due to signal faults etc. happen far too regularly – especially, weirdly, at the beginning of winter with the onset of the Cape’s heavy rain.

There is little incentive for Metrorail to make even the most basic improvements, but perhaps the looming Soccer World Cup – with the prospect of snobby German fans and drunken English hooligans having to make their way safely back to their hotels – might induce them to up their game.


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