I’ve been travelling the train for over 10 years now. What was once a joyful experience and a smooth trip to work, has devolved into a nightmare that sees many of us either being stranded or arriving late at work.

I’ve previously written about their service and the fact that I am sympathetic to their struggle with cable theft, arson and vandalism, but I do feel it’s been so many years and it still feels like nothing concrete is being done.

And with this month’s bus strikes, which have been going strong for about nine days now, the most important thing readers want to know is whether or not they can rely on alternative transport in their time of need. And having taxis at our disposal isn’t enough because they’re already operating at full capacity.

On Friday 20th April, I found myself stranded at the station for what amounted to a good three and a half hours. Regional signal power failure across the lines resulted in severe delays and limited operation of trains, which left many commuters at a complete loss, with some not even having the option of taking a taxi as they didn’t budget for it.

News24 reports that the service already struggles with operating and that the cable theft often results in the loss of up to 80 coaches a month.   

Many people took to social media to express their frustration with the strikes, while some of our readers below are annoyed with Metrorail’s continuous deteriorating service:


Image: Commuters hurrying to catch the train during the bus strike (Photo Credit: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

Image: With no buses in sight, people are resorting to standing in long queues at the taxi rank in order to get to work (Photo Credit: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

READ MORE: An open letter to Metrorail – here's why you need to up your service delivery game

I pay R340 per month for my train ticket, but I spend twice as much on "alternative" transport

I travel by train as well and I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to message my boss to tell him that I'm late, once again, because of the trains. You see, where I work 99% of my colleagues have cars but not one of them goes as far as where I live.

My manager was told by the boss to issue me with a warning but she's very understanding as she's a leader and sympathises with her staff. If not for that fact I would've been fired by now.

Here's something that I don't understand: recently I checked and to my surprise (or not) it's only the service in Cape Town that is always delayed! And when I check my app, Metrofail tells us that there are MINOR delays of 40 - 60min!

What's minor about that?

One of my colleagues told me the other day that the amount of time I travel each morning, people can fly to Joburg and back. I have to say it's sad but true. What is the government doing about this? Or are they keeping their mouths shut as it does not affect them?

I pay R340 per month for my train ticket, but I spend twice as much on "alternative" transport. The thing is that not as many people are as fortunate to have that kind of money available every day.

I've been travelling by train for the past 15 years but I have to say that the last couple of months has been HELL! Never in my life have I experienced this kind of service from Metrorail.

And what about the senior citizens and the kids in their way to school? Just the other day people were storming to get into an already packed train and a poor guy (about 70 years old) was trying to get out of the train. He ended up on the ground and was hurt. And tonight I witnessed a lady falling flat on her face. These could've turned out to be very serious injuries for these people.

I could go on and on about the things I've seen and stories that I've heard from fellow commuters, it's a never ending list.

Please up your game or hand over the reins into more capable hands.

Gatvol commuter

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Passengers are never informed if a train has halted for whatever reason

I've been using the trains for 3 years now since starting college. Year after year the service has gotten worse and worse. More delays, less fixes, and lost/damaged carriages are never replaced.

Between October 2015 and February 2016 at the time I heard on the news that over 30! carriages had been destroyed in various incidents. Where are the replacements? Anyone on a train that goes past Maitland and Salt River stations can see old, decrepit, destroyed and defunct trains.

Then comes the lack of drivers. Metrorail does not want to admit this, but they are understaffed. As a regular commuter at Cape Town station you can frequently see and hear that trains change platforms suddenly or are late because there aren't drivers.

Then comes the horridly slow repairs. There was lighting 2 weeks ago (as of 10/5/2017) and they are still "repairing" the Bellville signal faults. The Albertyn Crossing incident did cause massive damage yes, but it was not a catastrophe of gargantuan proportions that needs 8 bloody months (Metrorail's estimate) of repair work!

Not to be forgotten is the lack of communication. Station attendants and ticket officers will outright ignore or laugh at customers if they ask when the train is coming at times. I've seen it happen. And passengers are never informed if a train has halted for whatever reason.

A train once stopped between Goodwood and Thornton and the driver had gotten out. No one had known, and after 30 minutes of waiting people started jumping out. I jumped out and landed heel first on a rusty nail. I then had to limp home and treat my wound instead of enjoying my weekend plans.

My injury is minor to customers on the ventral line. During the week of May 1st 2017, there were massive delays following signal damage from the lightning storm the week prior. Trains stood still on the central line at platforms but passengers were not informed. There were reports of criminals entering the trains and robbing the unsuspecting commuters who were waiting for the trains to move.

People need affordability, but if ticket prices need to be raised by a rand or two more just to get a reliable service (not even a good one, just reliable), then I'm sure many would be willing to make the compromise.

I also want to note that most of the grievances I've listed in this email have been within the last 6 months alone.

Nikolaos

The last time I can remember the trains running as they should was in 2010 when we were trying to impress the world

I just wanted to mention that another major problem is that of theft inside the train. Every day I see people being robbed of their phones and it is happening more constantly in recent times. I myself was a victim of being pick-pocketed and it almost happened to me again just the other day (If it wasn’t for my quick reaction).

I have complained on Hello Peter, on Metrorail’s twitter feed, Facebook, etc but they don’t even bother to respond.

I can understand why people burn the trains out of frustration (which is not a solution and I don’t agree with it) but I can understand why. I travel on the Southern Line from Claremont to Retreat and my word… for the last two to five years the service has been steadily getting worse and worse.

The last time I can remember the trains running as they should was in 2010 when we were trying to impress the world. Once that final whistle blew and the closing ceremony was done… we went back to the same old bad service the next day.

The Albertyn level crossing “incident” happened a few months ago and you telling me they can’t fix it after 5 months? Causing delays for more than an hour and my heart bleeds for the people that still have to travel to Fish Hoek and Simonstown.

But they can pay their CEO’s and MD’s millions of rands in bonuses every year?

It really annoys me because the money they get paid could be used to make a better train service and fix current issues, but the guys on top take cars to work so they don’t feel our pain.

Jethro

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How have you not been able to do proper risk management?

Metrorail,

Please explain:

1. While delays and vandalism are announced, which result in delays of 60 mins plus, that the business express trains are still running? Are you categorising your customers? Forgetting that business class makes up a small fraction of ticket sales generated by your "other" clients?

This seems to be a trend as you also have security on 'some' lines. Why are there two people at each carriage checking the Kraaifontein express train tickets but you can hardly find a security guard in the central or northern line?

2. When there are delays of extended periods, why do your ticket staff continue to sell tickets and not advise customers of delays or alternative arrangements? What if that was my only money (please don't act like you have the most customer centric employees).

3. Your staff treat your customers like criminals, but this seems to be the organisational culture at play. You as the service provider act as if you are doing us a favour (irrespective that we are paying for a service) in turn your staff treats your customers like thieving criminals. Yes like the writer has said your lack of securing the train station have allowed free access, but this does not excuse the manner which the way your staff approach customers. They are brand ambassadors or rather should be.

3. The overcrowding of trains is due to your scheduling and delays. Now I agree with the writer that at some point you fall victim to criminals but by all things that are sacred how, and I'm asking with a bleeding heart, how have you not been able to do proper risk management? Every time it happens your response is as if it's the first time you have EVER experienced this.

4. When a train becomes stationary between two stations, for whatever reason, there is absolutely no communication about what is going on, you can sit in one train for hours waiting.

Then the doors will open and you would jump at own risk, cross tracks at own risk or at own risk is what you are implying when opening the doors.

Again no accountability, you take no responsibility for the safety of your passengers and yes I've been this person several times. I had to walk to work in town from Woodstock, I got to work at 10.

5. Why do you announce platform changes 2 minutes before the train departs from another platform? For many this is the only transport home, if they miss the train, they may not get home.

We live in South Africa, be realistic about what your delays cause to people who have to expose themselves to possible harm getting home.

6. What are we really paying for? I am late every day! The only reason I take a train is cause of the time cut out of having to sit in traffic and the recklessness of taxis.

7. How about reimbursement when the trains are cancelled or delayed? Like a free ride that you get with the busses? I want my value for money.

Gretchen

What Metrorail says:

We’ve reached out to Metrorail’s spokesperson, Riana Scott, who provided us with an in-depth look into their struggles, acknowledging that their operating system is struggling.

She says, "It is well known that the current train fleet is old and far beyond its initial design life. The supporting infrastructure is obsolete and components virtually unobtainable except for rail; systems equally old (in many cases has to be custom made which adds to cost and procurement time)." 

Addressing the complaints from readers about lack of communication and delays she adds:

•    Many complaints relate to lack of communication – the current fleet have no on-board announcement capability and leaves us reliant on sms’s (via an external service provider), social media and centralised announcements.

•    Ironically as outdated systems are replaced with modern ones, the integration of information is often not possible – hence the information displayed on electronic display boards is often misaligned to real operating conditions during service interruptions.

•    Until the entire system is overhauled and modernised this will occur.
 

But, what about the delays?

Scott says that “only one train can stop at a platform, the others are obligated by safety rules to remain in a holding pattern in section on approach to the nearest station.”

•    Customers are advised not to disembark trains in section unless requested and assisted by our employees. Technicians are sent to repair trains as soon as possible.

•    The bus strike added additional commuters to an already over-subscribed system – we were unable to add additional train-sets but operated additional trips (extended peaks).

•    The majority of our employees work hard to serve commuters – in instances where individuals fail to meet acceptable customer service standard we encourage commuters to report it to ctcomplaints@metrorail.co.za with full details to enable discipline to be instituted where warranted.
 

So what’s the plan going forward?


•    The Minister of Transport recently confirmed that R9 billion has been assigned to the Western Cape’s rail infrastructure modernisation.  

•    The bulk (R3 billion) would see the region phase in thirty-five new train-sets over time and R2.9 billion would be used to upgrade the maintenance depot, security and fencing/walling.

•    The remainder would be apportioned to station upgrades (R1.6 billion) and the replacement of signalling including the construction of a new train traffic control centre, track and civils (R1.2 billion).

*This piece was originally published in 2017 and has been updated.

Have you been struggling with the trains or taxis this week during the strike? Tell us about your experiences.

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