Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

Train drivers in Durban were threatened with being burned alive after a power surge delayed commuter trains in the city on Wednesday night.

Two coaches at the Berea and Durban Stations were torched by angry commuters — incensed by the delays. The collective cost of the attack is estimated at nearly R10m. Train drivers and other Passenger Rail Association of SA (Prasa) staff had to be rescued by police officers.

Hundreds of coaches are vandalised by commuters annually‚ either by criminal elements or by crowds in response to delays. Prasa’s top management held a briefing at their regional head office on Thursday in response to the arson attacks.

Prasa regional security head Rajen Harrispersad said an overhead cable had snapped on Wednesday‚ causing several platforms in their network to fail.

"We had very few platforms to channel trains and thus we had delays. Our staff came under serious attack and the commuters became aggressive. We had to call for back-up from other law enforcement agencies‚" he said.

"While the technical teams were working on the cable fault we had a call from Berea Station that a train set was on fire; 25 minutes later we had a situation at Durban Station where commuters became so aggressive they wanted to put train drivers into the coach and set them alight."

Acting Prasa CEO Cromet Molepo said the rail system in the province was already under strain and overcrowded‚ compounded by fresh attacks in which trains are burned.

"We are trying to reclaim our rail infrastructure from thugs who have decided that while we are working hard to renew the system‚ they want to put us backwards‚" he said. "I had hoped we could talk about our modernisation programme‚ but sadly we needed to fast-forward because of the incidents last night."

He said that burning trains and threatening of staff should make us ashamed to be South African. "We are getting to a stage where we are becoming uninsurable after the 2016-17 year when we claimed nearly R300m. This year, we estimate our losses will be double that. When people fly and things are delayed you don’t see people burning the planes and breaking the airport."