The rush-hour commute from Bonteheuwel to Cape Town is a daily death-defying feat, according to passengers who use the crowded service

“You see those broken windows? People kick them open to get out of the train,” claimed one man waiting on the windy platform on Thursday.

He said at times the trains wait for a long time for railway signals to change, forcing frustrated commuters to climb out and walk next to the tracks for the rest of the journey.

Desperate and dangerous

Robin Apollo, on Thursday morning, tweeted a photograph of a chaotic scene of people squashed into an overcrowded train at Bonteheuwel.

Men lie on the roof of the train, risking electrocution by the overhead wires, in a desperate attempt to get to work on time, while other commuters hang on to the train doors.

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Metrorail, on its website, warned commuters who travel on the central line that service would be delayed by about 30 to 40 minutes due to vandalism in various areas and signal equipment failure at Woodstock and Cape Town.

This was a slight reduction from an earlier warning that the delay would be 60 minutes.

The southern line, whose stops include Fish Hoek and Retreat, would also be running 30 to 40 minutes late due to signal equipment failure at Woodstock and Cape Town and manual authorisation of trains operating between Retreat and Fish Hoek. There were also sets out of service and cancellations.

In theory, it was slightly better on the northern line, with delays of up to 20 minutes. These delays were due to signal equipment failure between Cape Town and Woodstock. The Wellington line was affected by low overhead power between Huguenot and Soetendal.

Train pain

Between January and April this year alone, Metrorail suffered the loss of 140 coaches because of theft of critical components, vandalism and arson, making it difficult to run enough trains.

The company warned that if this carried on it would be difficult to carry on providing a service. It encouraged the public to report vandals and cable thieves.

A least one man on the platform at Bonteheuwel said on some days passengers who had already waited a long time, would suddenly hear an announcement that the train was running half an hour late.

The man said if he had the R10 taxi fare, he would walk over to the rank and jostle to get on a minibus. Doing so would mean wasting part of the monthly R150 train ticket he had already bought.

Moegamad Solomons has seen it all. His sister runs a snack table at the train station.

“Sometimes [trains] only come here with six coaches. Now how is that going to take everybody to work?” he asked.

“That bend over there,” pointing towards distant Montevista, “is hot-spot for crime,” said Solomons.

“If trains are waiting for signals to change, the robbers get on there and rob people. The train can stand there for up to an hour.”

He said when trains eventually arrive, people panic, break the queue and rush to the coaches to get a seat.

Safety concerns

The United National Transport Union (UNTU) repeatedly expresses concern about the safety of its drivers, as passengers become more and more frustrated.

Two trains were set alight at the Cape Town station in June because trains were running late. Last week, near Bonteheuwel station, three armed men attacked a train driver and robbed commuters. A security guard managed to chase them off.

Also last week, five armed men boarded the train at Mbekweni Station in Paarl, on the northern line, and attacked three UNTU members shortly after 21:00.

Metrorail, which repeatedly attributes train delays to vandalism and cable theft, indicated that it had made some headway against these crimes and had arrested 18 people.