09 Septmber 2012
Metrorail responds to DA statement on railway deaths
The tragedy of the two women hit by a train on Thursday afternoon outside Kuilsrivier in Cape Town is regrettable and we send our condolences to their families and loved ones. It is equally tragic that the Honourable Ian Ollis of the DA has chosen to trivialise this matter and use it as a diversion from the real safety challenges within the rail environment. Any suggestion that the Group CEO of Prasa, Lucky Montana, should, in any way be held responsible for this tragedy is at best sensationalist and at worst malicious, and is rejected with the contempt it deserves.
The behaviour of the public within and around the rail environment remains one of the most pervasive challenges we deal with on a day to day basis, which is further exarcebated by the proliferation of settlements along the railway line. Thursday’s tragedy happened within less than 100 meters of a pedestrian bridge and in an area demarcated by cement palisade fencing. Metrorail continues to repair fences at a huge cost. Despite these efforts, vandalism remains high and constant maintenance is costly. It is equally not viable to fence every kilometre of the 2,200km of railway track in the Metrorail environment.
Encroachment of settlements on the rail reserve poses a serious safety risk and is by no means a problem created by Metrorail, but rather a challenge local government has to deal with. It is on that basis that we continue to work very closely with local government to address this challenge.
In the Western Cape alone, we spent R6m in 2011/12 to mend or replace damaged fencing. This year a R5,6m provision has been made for replacement of section fencing in the region as part of our Safety Improvement Programme within the rail reserve. The Western Cape Department of Roads and Transport, under the supportive leadership of MEC Robin Carlisle, has made available a further R4,5m to erect fencing in high risk areas. Furthermore the City of Cape Town is also working closely with us in addressing these challenges. This is a commendable step and a positive response to our call for effective partnerships to improve safety in our environment. Partnerships with other organs of state is critical in dealing with the challenge of encroachment of settlements on the rail reserve, which impose safety challenges. It must be noted that Metrorail has spent over R500m on measures to improve safety and security in its environment. It is rather unfortunate that the Honourable Ian Ollis has elected to overlook the role that the respective organs of state have to play in addressing this challenge as well as the serious strides we have made through the partnership with the City of Cape Town, amongst others, and the fact that human settlement is a local government competency, not Metrorail.
It is equally disappointing that incorrect, headline-grabbing statistics are being brandied about in an alarmist fashion, which does nothing for our concerted efforts to improve safety in the commuter rail environment. It should be noted that more than 90% of fatalities in the rail environment are as a result of unsafe behavior of members of the public who are not even passengers in our trains. These would include people who cross the railway line at illegal crossings and road users who disregard safety warnings at level crossing. The recent conviction of a taxi driver whose unsafe behavior led to the death of innocent school children is but one example. It is therefore ridiculous to apportion blame to Metrorail on such cases.
We have spent the last two week in Cape Town interacting with communities as part of our ongoing safety awareness campaign, which, amongst others, focuses at educating the public about safe behavior within and around the rail environment. We continue to appeal to the public and commuters to behave in a manner that enhances safety in our environment and must desist from behavior that places theirs and the lives of others at risk.
We will extend an invitation to the Honourable Ollis to take him on a tour of the central line in Cape Town where he will witness first-hand the seriousness of the challenge posed by encroachment of settlements on the rail reserve and how these translate to safety challenges. He must also appreciate that other spheres of government and relevant organs of state have a critical role to play if we are to succeed in dealing with the challenges.
Metrorail remains committed to ensuring that we continue to improve safety in our environment and strengthen partnerships with all relevant stakeholders and organs of state to realise this noble objective. Passing the buck and apportioning blame will not solve our problems. It is only through meaningful partnerships with relevant stakeholders that we will find lasting solutions to the safety challenges in the railway environment.
30 Wolmarans Street