Metrorail train at Pretoria station. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL/ROBERT TSHABALALA
Metrorail train at Pretoria station. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL/ROBERT TSHABALALA

Metrorail’s efforts to improve security appear to be paying off, especially in the Western Cape, with the arrest of scores of suspects for rail-related crime.

About 60 suspects were apprehended last Thursday, bringing the number of arrests for the year to more than 70 and about 90 since October when Metrorail renewed its security measures, according to Western Cape media reports. It offered a R25,000 reward for tip-offs that lead to the arrest and conviction of cable-theft suspects.

Metrorail now seeks prosecution for cable theft in terms of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act, which provides for stricter bail conditions and more severe sentences than under common law, Metrorail spokeswoman Riana Scott was reported as telling EWN.

Cable thief jailed

Also last Thursday, a cable thief was jailed for 15 years in a sentence that included malicious property damage.

The Passenger Rail Agency of SA announced in May that a specialised law enforcement unit would be deployed in the Western Cape within three months to operate for a year.

This is being made possible through an intergovernmental effort by the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape government at a cost of R48m.

The purpose is to stabilise the urban rail service "in the short term", Cape Town transport mayoral committee member Brett Herron said.

Metrorail regional manager Richard Walker said the unit would have a two-pronged focus, "primarily to deal with vandalism‚ theft and illegal trade of nonferrous metal and copper‚ and secondly to increase visible policing on trains and stations for improved commuter safety".

Cable theft, muggings and vandalism have severely disrupted commuter rail services, with Metrorail in the Cape particularly hard hit.

Cable theft interrupts power supply to commuter trains and disables signalling, leading to massive delays.

While nonferrous metal, copper in particular, is the main target for thieves, they also steal high-tensile steel components from railway lines, which leads to frequent derailments.

In January, two people died and 200 were injured in a collision between two Metrorail trains at the Geldenhuys station near Germiston in Gauteng. A preliminary finding blamed the collision on a communication problem involving manual signalling. The system was adopted after the automated device malfunctioned due to theft.

Independent investigator Combined Private Investigations estimates the combined cost of copper cable theft to the South African economy at about R5bn a year, excluding the cost of train delays and cancellations.

SA, which does not mine significant volumes of copper, is one of the world’s leading copper exporters, selling mainly to India and China, says the firm.