Unveiling a shiny, new train that will be introduced in the future is like putting a plaster over an open wound that needs surgery, writes Aaqeelah Floris.
Picture this. It’s 06:00 on an icy Monday morning and you’re waiting on a train. You have your first work deadline of the day at 09:00, so you have plenty of time, right? Wrong.
Factor in a two-hour delay while you fear being robbed and/or squashed in an over-crowded carriage and your time has been divided in half.
Riding first class? You’ll just be paying more for the experience and you’ll have to search for the least vandalised seat to perch on. Third class? With the unpredictable delays, you probably won’t be able to reach the last carriages to make it into the train.
Don’t worry though, if it’s really stuffy, there’s a nice breeze coming from the carriage doors that can’t close because people are hanging out of it due to the lack of space.
I’ve been taking the train since 2013 and to be fair, when a Metrorail train is on time, the commute to work is fast. Sadly though, I’ve lowered my standards so much over time that I’ve given up on having a seat or breathing space throughout the journey.
On April 9, 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the Cape Town station to unveil two glorious blue trains which serve as part of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (Prasa) 20-year modernisation programme that plans to introduce 600 new trains over the next 10 years.
The president was greeted by protesters from the #UniteBehind activist group who called for those who are involved in state capture at the rail service to be jailed and for the president to declare the commuter rail a national disaster – and rightly so.
A national disaster wrapped in a bow?
Unveiling a shiny, new train that will be introduced in the future is like putting a plaster over an open wound that needs surgery. What about the crime, vandalism, delays and over-crowded carriages? These were some of the burning questions on the protesters’ lips.
I’ve witnessed a woman screaming after being stabbed and robbed on a train in the early afternoon. I’ve spent hours in a train or waiting for one to come and I’ve become accustomed to carrying a plastic packet to spread across broken or slashed seats. Mind you, I admit to my privilege and that my train line isn’t the worst off.
In February 2019, within two days, two people were knocked on the railway line, one of which was a woman who illegally crossed the tracks at Wetton. Speaking from experience, there’s a tunnel that you need to walk through to reach the other side of the railway line in Wetton and often, it’s flooded and passengers are forced to cross the tracks.
It gets worse
There were approximately 175 arson attempts on the trains in Cape Town between 2015 and 2018 at Cape Town station, a few of which I witnessed the charred carriages on my way to work. Amidst all this there’ve been armed robberies and injuries too.
Communication is seriously lacking in the land of the privileged. Yes, we want change but we’d also like the effort to bring about the improvement. But first, we need clarity about how the problems we’re currently faced with will be dealt with.
A vast majority of train commuters don’t have the choice to hop in an Uber or a bus as the train is still one of the cheapest modes of transport. So once again, the working classes are left to accept the circumstances because what other choice do they have?
R170bn is said to be invested into the country to ensure that the passenger rail services offered would eventually become safe, reliable and modernised. What’s more is that features of the new trains include on-board cameras and air-conditioning. They are said to accommodate up to 1200 passengers in six coaches and they won’t operate unless the doors are closed.
In a statement, President Ramaphosa is said to have agreed to address #UniteBehind and assured them the train operations would become efficient when the new changes are in place.
Future aside, let’s zoom into the present. The railway service in Cape Town is a national disaster and needs a nationwide safety plan as #UniteBehind have been rallying for.
Here’s me hoping for a better tomorrow, but only if it’s not just for show.
– Aaqeelah Floris is a content producer at Health24.