Commuters who use the subway at Heathfield railway station suffered four floods last week due to stolen water pumps which forced people to risk crossing the tracks to get to their train on time.
Heathfield station, a junction, where commuters change from the Cape Flats line to the Southern Suburbs line and visa versa, is always buzzing with people who are changing trains.
Residents who grew up in Heathfield said floods have been an ongoing occurrence and they have experienced inconvenience for many years.
A reader emailed Southern Mail to alert us to the challenges at the subway and requested we investigate the state of Heathfield station “which has been declining for years”. He said people urinate and defecate, smoke drugs in the subway and loitered there during working hours.
Ward councillor Kevin Southgate said he grew up in Heathfield and he is sure that over the years the infrastructure had deteriorated and there was clearly a need for some serious repairs and maintenance. “The water is as a result of an underground stream passing beneath the railway tracks and the pump meant to prevent the subway from flooding often breaking down.”
Mr Southgate said he had several meetings with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA).
“Following several engagements over a protracted period of time with Prasa/Metrorail I recently had another on-site meeting with George Kiewietz of Metrorail regarding the issue of flooding as well as issues of security and drug dealing at the station.
“He informed me that the matter was receiving attention, including the closing up of the subway at night.
“The security would lock up after the last train at night and open before the first train in the morning. The local neighbourhood watch also agreed to assist in that regard. As you know everything is always budget dependent, however, George assured me that the matter will be attended to.”
Southern Mail investigated and spoke to the PHEW (Punts Estate, Heathfield, Elfindale, Windsor) Neighbourhood Watch who said they have been asking Prasa to address this issue as well as many other challenges at the station.
Enver Manefeldt, chairperson of PHEW, said the subway has been deteriorating for the past year. PHEW started four years ago due to house break-ins and car theft.
Mr Manefeldt said PHEW has 65 members who patrol 24/7 and one of the major concerns was the subway.
He said the proposal for a gate would solve many problems. “Robberies and drug peddling in the subway are the main reasons why they should have the gates up.”
Mr Manefeldt said this would prevent vandalism.
Avril Gilbert, exco member of PHEW, claimed that when security guards are approached with any criminal activities they do not take action. “The securities are intimidated by the criminals.”
School children as well as old people risk getting hit by a train when they have to cross the railway line. “I’ve seen children as young as Grade 3 pupils walk over.”
Two commuters stopped when they saw Southern Mail speaking to PHEW in the subway and shared their experiences but didn’t want to provide their first names.
Ms Swartz, 63, said she was one of the commuters who had to walk over the tracks to get to the other side and getting down from the high platform was difficult as well as getting up on the other side. “Once I decided to brave the knee-deep water and I took off my shoes. I also felt stones under my feet while walking through the subway.”
The other commuter, Ms Hendricks, 53, said she lives in Retreat and has to change trains at Heathfield station. “Last week I had to jump over the line and I also wanted to add that the security don’t announce warnings about the flooded subway.”
Riana Scott, Metrorail spokesperson, said concerns have been raised about periodic flooding at the subway.
“They have also recorded an unprecedented increase in pilfering and vandalism.
Pumps, cables and lights are stolen on a regular basis. Repairing at an increased pace requires additional components and funding beyond the normal maintenance budget, she said.
“They are liaising with Metrorail Protection Services and other law enforcements agencies in the area to assist with apprehending the offenders. We also appeal to residents to alert local SAPS of any suspicious activity near the subway.”