Blaze strains rail service

Firefighters extinguished the flames just before 6pm on Sunday August 7.

A fire near Retreat station on Sunday August 7 has caused even more delays and cancellations on an already strained train line.

Since the fire, Metrorail has had to cancel additional peak hour trips on the Southern line.

Daphne Kayster, Metrorail’s acting communications manager, said the incident at the Retreat staging yard caused damage to two plain trailers and two motor coaches from two different train sets. The plain trailers are passenger coaches.

While the company is still investigating the case, they suspect it is yet another case of arson on their property.

The fire was reported at about 2.45pm and was extinguished at about 5.40pm. No one was injured.

The spokesperson for Fire and Rescue Services, Liezl Moodie, said there had been a delay while trying to extinguish the fire because firefighters had to wait for the electricity supply to be isolated.

At the time of going to print, Ms Kayster said it was too early to speculate what had caused the fire and investigations were still ongoing. She said Metrorail has been plagued by incidents of arson attacks.

“Since October 2015 Metrorail has seen deliberate targeting of our assets through arson attacks, resulting in loss of capacity. It is not just the cost of the damage, the bigger dilemma is how soon these carriages can be repaired and returned to service and until they are, thousands of commuters have to use other, already overfull trains, said Ms Kayster.

One train accommodates be-tween 800 and 2 000 commuters, depending on the number of carriages and its Metro and MetroPlus configuration.

Although exact figures for the damage have not been determined by Metrorail’s insurance yet, historically, the damage could range between R1.5 million to R6.5m a coach, depending on the extent of the damage to both the motor coaches and passenger carriages.

Metrorail regional manager Richard Walker condemned the destruction. “Incidents of vandalising Metrorail assets are totally unacceptable. This latest incident (at the Retreat staging yard) is another setback and it severely impacts the region’s ability to respond to passenger demand,” said Mr Walker.

“Moreover, it negatively impacts our recovery programme to bring back reliability of the train service. We apologise to commuters for bearing the brunt of the wanton destruction of our assets,” he said.

Shihaam Fredericks, from Retreat, who was at the scene of the fire, said commuters were accustomed to trains being delayed.

“Cancellations and delays are normal. The problem now is that there will be even more delays and cancelations because of this fire. We are so fed up already. Now we’re going to have to look for alternative ways of getting to work or get to work two to three hours late,” said Ms Fredericks.

Metrorail has increased its reward for information relating to vandalism of their property to R100 000, guaranteeing full anonymity of anyone providing information to secure a conviction. Anyone with information can report crime or suspicious behaviour to crime stop on 08600 10111, Metrorail protection services on 021 449 4336, the Transport Information Centre on 0800 65 64 63 or SMS crime tip-offs to 32211.