Train strike: where were the buses?
Commuters stranded as drivers strike after death of colleague
Getting home was even more of a nightmare than usual for commuters yesterday when Metrorail failed to supply buses to replace trains brought to a halt by a strike.
Train drivers stopped work, demanding a police escort, after the fatal shooting of driver Pieter Barend Botha at Netreg station earlier in the day. Botha had been working for Metrorail for 27 years.
Asked why Metrorail had not provided buses, spokesperson Riana Scott said: “Buses are wholly inadequate as long distance and mass transporter – they congest peak hour roads further and can only accommodate 75 passengers per bus while a train transports between 800 and 1,500 people.”
At Rondebosch station in the late afternoon, commuters waiting to catch the 4:33 pm train joined others who had been waiting since 4 pm. The 4:33 pm train did not arrive. There was no announcement about the strike.
The first train on the line came at 5:15 pm, but it was full. Another came at 5:40 pm, but it too was full.
Still there were no announcements.
Some people who had bought single tickets had already returned their tickets and were using taxis and buses. But for many travelling beyond Retreat, it was a struggle as no other transport goes further than Retreat.
Zodwa Nqenqe was travelling to Fish Hoek and only had a train ticket plus taxi fare from Fish Hoek to Masiphumelele.
“Even if I get a bus from here to Retreat, what am I going to do after I get there? I have no money and there is no transport to Fish Hoek,” said Nqenqe.
At 5:55 pm a train came and people squeezed in. It stopped for ten minutes before Retreat and then it moved again.
Immediately after Kalk Bay the train stopped and for an hour commuters waited. Then people started jumping off. One passenger said her husband was on the train in front which had also also been stopped for more than hour.
The driver refused to open the doors and people had to jump off between carriages. Those going to Fish Hoek had to walk from Kalk Bay in the dark.
Commuter Natasha Warries had her seven-year-old daughter with her. Some passengers helped the child, who was in tears, to jump off the train.
“It’s dark and I have to walk my with child to Fish Hoek. She is scared but they don’t care about that. If they did, they would have provided us with alternative transport,” said Warries.
“There are buses standing in Fish Hoek. They know trains are stuck in Kalk Bay. Why not send the buses? We have paid to get off in Fish Hoek, not in the middle of nowhere.”
Some passengers shouted at the driver. One woman, who found it hard to jump off the train, shouted: “What if we get robbed here or something happens and you’re not opening the doors?”
SA Transport and Allied Workers’ Union Western Cape General Secretary Luntu Sokuta said the union supported the workers’ action.
“Drivers downed tools for fear of their safety. They did not feel safe after the incident that happened earlier that day and we support them,” said Sokuta.
Metrorail said scores of trains had been delayed or cancelled. Discussions were taking place between labour leadership and management according to a statement by regional manager Richard Walker. He expressed his condolences to the family and friends of the slain driver.
“It is entirely understandable that colleagues would fear for their safety after such a traumatic experience.”
“Our employees find it increasingly stressful to work in crime-ridden areas. The prevalence of criminal elements around Metrorail operational precincts needs decisive action from law enforcers, both for the commuting public’s sake and for our employees,” Walker said.
Western Cape South African Police Services said today that two suspects have been arrested after Botha’s death. One had been charged with murder and illegal possession of a firearm, and the other with illegal possession of a firearm. They are to appear in the Bishop Lavis court on 14 July.
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