Commuters were stranded when the Western Cape's entire passenger train service was brought to a halt mid-afternoon on Thursday. Picture: DAVE CHAMBERS
Commuters were stranded when the Western Cape's entire passenger train service was brought to a halt mid-afternoon on Thursday. Picture: DAVE CHAMBERS

There are no trains operating in the Western Cape after Eskom cut power mid-afternoon on Thursday, citing non-payment of bills by passenger rail agency Prasa.

Commuters were stranded on trains that had to limp back to stations on emergency power and passengers were denied entry to train stations. The trains will not run again on Thursday, and it is not yet known whether the service will be restored by Friday.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalala said the situation is due to “Prasa-Eskom matters”.

“Prasa has suspended its service,” Prasa’s acting regional manager Raymond Maseko told Cape Talk. “This is due to Eskom cutting power to our main supply system in Cape Town, citing non-payment of fees that are due.”

Maseko said the whole Western Cape network has been suspended with immediate effect. “All stations will be closed. No tickets will be sold. Trains are being removed from the section using other means of traction.” 

He said commuters who were on the trains when the power was cut were taken to the nearest stations and alternative transport was provided.

Western Cape premier Alan Winde said Prasa had received a notice from Eskom to settle its bill two days ago. “Prasa is not paying its bill and it’s creating major chaos on a number of our lines. This is devastating. It creates more congestion.” 

Train operator Metrorail confirmed on social media that the regional service had been “temporarily suspended”. It said, in a reply to a commuter, that it didn’t know when the service would be restored.

At about 12.15pm, Metrorail Western Cape tweeted that all trains were at holding stations because of a “loss of overhead electrical power”. Then, at 2.40pm, it announced: “The regional train service is temporarily suspended due to loss of traction power supply. Further updates to follow. Commuters are advised to make use of own alternative transport.”

The suspension of trains is expected to cause chaos in the city during the peak afternoon commute home as people scramble to find alternative transport.

In a short statement, Mbalula confirmed that Eskom had “cut electricity supply to three Prasa substations, severely affecting Metrorail operations”.

He was expected to brief the media on Thursday evening.

At about 4pm, TimesLIVE witnessed commuters being turned away from Cape Town station. All of the entrances were closed and a large police contingent stood outside telling passengers: “There is no power, there are no trains, you’re not allowed in.”

This is a developing story.