But the rail system is in a crisis. Commuters experience it daily when trains are cancelled and delayed, when a look out of the window reveals a rail reserve that is often filthy, is completely porous and leaves the system and its infrastructure extremely vulnerable to theft and sabotage.
Despite a desperate need for more, not less rail services, the system essentially services the busy peak periods and grinds to a halt in the evenings and over the weekends when it should be contributing to economic growth and quality of life by providing public transport to our growing tourism and hospitality industry.
Customers and businesses impacted by the slow puncture in Cape Town’s rail service are alternately helpless or very, very angry when experiencing the frustrations of a service that is often cancelled at only moment’s notice.
As we go to press, more carriages have gone up in smoke, and a major part of the system, the central line, is not operating, with Metrorail management deflecting the blow by saying the commuters will suffer. They certainly will, but unless the rail authority ups its game we can expect this again, and again.
It’s important that city leaders take note of developments and the negative effect they have, most profoundly on the working poor.
It would help if city leaders – from across government as well as senior civil servants together with business and labour leaders could put heads together to shore up this important service.
Metrorail is in a deep crisis that stems from its systemic management and leadership challenges. It is not about to come right in a hurry, but in the meantime we need to get to work, school and college on time.
A joint task team comprising all of these stakeholders could surely help to better manage some of the main problems. Key among them is the vulnerability of the system and its infrastructure to vandalism, arson and theft. This is a security problem which the South African Police Service, the City of Cape Town, the Central City Improvement District and even business with assets near to the rail can surely help to better manage.
With 30% of the provincial economy located in a dense radius of the Cape Town rail station the major public transport infrastructure that feeds this asset urgently requires more attention.