Wednesday 17 November 2015




Cape Town – In October 2014 criminals brought train traffic in Cape Town to a halt. A year later another almost identical incident again brought the train service to its knees. Like before 4 meters of multi-core communication cable was stolen on the approach to Cape Town Station causing delays in excess of an hour. Like before, the perpetrators struck at 3am in the  morning.

Regional manager Richard Walker experienced a sense of déjà vu: “Our stalwart and dedicated technicians rushed to the area, first doing preliminary repairs to permit trains to be manually authorized, before restoring full service by 07:29. But residual delays continued until well after peak hour”.  Typically during repairs of this nature multi-core cables (some cables containing more than 73 individual cables) have to be joined and tested one by one, taking more than two hours. Without automated signaling, inbound and outbound trains at Cape Town Station had to be manually authorized one by one, causing long delays.

Walker explains: “The Western Cape region is unique in two ways; one, rail transports the majority of public transport users and two, it is the only region where all lines converge at a single terminal station, making the impact of senseless, selfish criminal acts so much more severe”. “Although a significant portion of the region’s copper communication cables have already been replaced by fiber optics, this particular section is still linked to Transnet Telecommunications copper cables, making it vulnerable to copper thieves”.

In mitigation Metrorail is:

  • currently replacing all copper cabling with fiber optic. The regional replacement program forms part of a national multi-million rand project. The laying of the fibre, excluding the installation of switches and configuration amounts to R4.8million. Replacement priority is guided  by the condition of existing cabling; and

  • recording successes (arrests and drastic decline in incidents) after the introduction of technology in high risk areas.

These interventions contributed to an encouraging rise in punctuality and reliability until the most recent spike of incidents. To exacerbate the situation, Transnet Freight Rail’s (TFR) tardy response over the past 6 – 8 weeks to fix their infrastructure at Kraaifontein and Bellville shows blatant disregard for passengers.

Walker says Metrorail managers continuously raise TFR’s slow response times with their regional management and have even resorted to elevating their lackluster support with senior management at national level with no discernible success: “We are transporting the work force of Cape Town and not goods; a concept they seemingly fail to grasp”.

Metrorail Protection Services and the Rapid Rail Unit are on high alert and the public requested to immediately report any suspicious activity in the area: “The exact repeat of events a year ago is possible but highly improbable, it is more plausible that it is a strategic and deliberate attempt to derail services at a crucial time where businesses are pressed to complete work before year-end and learners/students must complete examinations”.

Walker reiterated that Metrorail offers an award of up to R25 000 reward for any information leading to a successful conviction. He also appealed to the public to report scrap dealers buying copper without the requisite certificates of origin.

He unreservedly apologized to commuters, offering those who require proof of delays for employers letters of confirmation available at all stations. Alternatively commuters may register for the ‘Email my boss’ option on the He also implored employers not to penalise rail commuters for late arrivals: “We understand employers’ dilemma, our own employees arrive late – we ask that employers consider other ways of regaining lost time in the interest of breadwinners”.

THE scandal of cable and copper theft is really a scandal about the government’s inability to deal with this problem and the organise crime behind it, says the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “We have been warning that this problem was growing out of control for the last 10 years and the only institution which took any real action was the City Council which formed the effective Copper Heads,” said Ms Janine Myburgh, President of the Chamber.

“I, personally, have called for a judicial commission of inquiry so that we can get those involved into the witness box to face crass examination, but this has not happened despite the fact many involved a known to the authorities.  We have appealed for a tax on the export or scrap metal (as our BRIC partners do) or a total ban because scrap is actually a valuable resource and we should keep it for our own industries.”

The Chamber has suggested an outright ban on the sale of any scrap metal for cash so that the authorities can follow the financial trails. Other countries have found this to be an effective measure. “The only response has been a few wishy washy measures that are not real problems to organised crime. The National Council of Provinces says cable theft costs the country about R5 billion a year. That could pay for a lot of university education, but all we get are strong words and threats to deal with the problem after each crisis. It is time to stop talking and treat cable theft as serious crime and sabotage,” Ms Myburgh said.

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