Tragedy at railway tracks

Some parts of the railway line between Retreat an Heathfield stations are not fenced.

The lack of fencing between Heathfield and Retreat stations is in the spotlight again after four people were involved in train-related incidents in the past few months.

Kevin Southgate, councillor for Ward 72 has made an urgent plea to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) to erect fencing along the railway tracks between the two stations.

Mr Southgate has written to the parastatal to ask for assistance to try and safeguard commuters and pedestrians.

Previously residents asked for fencing (“Residents fear accident on railway line”, Southern Mail, January 29, 2014).

Metrorail then fenced up parts of the railway but accidents have still been reported.

Mr Southgate said earlier in the year someone had been electrocuted trying to steal cables, on another
occasion a homeless person who slept along the tracks, was knocked by a train. In March this
year a mangled body was found after the person was knocked by a train and on Tuesday July 23 another body was removed when someone was knocked between Retreat and Heathfield stations.

“The unreliability of the Metrorail train service has also given rise to illegal taxi operations at Heathfield station which has raised the ire of the local residents. This has resulted in passengers disembarking from the Cape Flats line and walking to Retreat station. Since there is no fencing from the level crossing in the direction of Retreat station, commuters now walk along the tracks instead of using the road.” said Mr Southgate.

“There is a section where the canal emerges from below the tracks and so the only way for people to pass over is by walking right next to the tracks. I have always found it difficult to understand why Prasa fenced off the western side of the tracks and not the eastern side.”

He said the side that was unfenced exposes people to major risks. “While I understand that people walk along the tracks at their own risk,
I’m firmly of the view that if the tracks were
properly fenced off as it should be, people would not be walking within the rail reserve. When the trains are delayed, which is daily, the amount
of people walking along the tracks increases,” he said.

Mr Southgate added that several residents had sent Prasa letters to address the issue.

“I dread to think what would happen if those families whose loved ones are killed because of Prasa’s negligence were to bring a civil claim against them. I have engaged numerous residents living along that section who informed me of the letters they have written regarding the fencing. However, nothing seems to come from it.”

Julia Damons said she had called Prasa on several occasions to complain. “People have lost their lives. I don’t know why that is not enough reason for them to act and make it safer for commuters. Children play along these tracks as well, God forbid a child is killed because of the lack of fencing,” said Ms Damons.

Riana Scott, spokesperson for Prasa, said they were aware of the incidents but said fencing would not reduce the number of accidents. “The purpose of railway fencing is primarily to demarcate boundaries and most fencing, even palisade, will not deter wilful entry. In principle, Prasa replaces and mends fencing on an ongoing basis as funds permit and budgets are committed.

“The replacement or upgrading or repairs thereof is planned and prioritised annually in terms of urgency and necessity and implemented according to available funding.”

Prasa has nearly 500 kilometres that have to be maintained and fenced

Ms Scott said a fencing project for the southern area was in progress as prioritised and funded.

She said the crossing of railway lines was illegal and advised commuters to avoid doing this. “Transgressors risk unnecessary danger which can be mitigated by using authorised crossings such as overhead bridges or sub-

“It is also advisable for homeowners to secure their properties as best they can and to report all criminal activity to police. Such reports are used for crime trend and pattern analyses upon which resources are deployed,” she said.