Western Cape is currently the only province in South Africa with a law enforcement unit dedicated to rail. That it works is seen from 36 arrests, confiscation of close to 400 m of cable and 800 kg of railway signal cable in just over two months of operations.
The Rail Enforcement Unit (REU) was launched by National Transport Minister Blade Nzimande during transport month last year. The unit is jointly funded by the Cape Town metro, Western Cape provincial government and the passenger Rail Agency of SA (PRASA). It operates on rail lines in the Cape Town metro and currently has a personnel strength of 100 law enforcement officers.
Cape Town mayor Dan Plato said the REU supported PRASA and other security personnel to overcome, among others, attacks on rail infrastructure and rolling stock assets, sabotage of the urban rail network and criminals targeting commuters and rail employees.
“REU successes to date give me reason to believe this unit will assist in stabilising urban rail service over the next few months. With less crime and vandalism, we expect a decrease in delays and cancellations and with that we expect more commuters opting for trains as opposed to road-based transport,” Plato said.
The REU ledger to date on the credit side lists 36 arrests on a range of charges including assault, possession of drugs and stolen property, malicious damage to property and theft; confiscation of 379 m of cable and 800 kg of railway signal cable; confiscated contraband and suspected stolen goods, including 21 mobile phones, two laptops, drugs and alcohol; more than 120 warning notices, including notices to appear in court, issued and carried out 332 inspections of hot spot areas and scrapyards.
A City of Cape Town statement pointed out that six of the arrests were in terms of a section of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act which makes provision for someone convicted of tampering with or damaging essential infrastructure to be jailed for up to 30 years.
Working alongside PRASA regional protection services, REU personnel have maintained a higher level of visibility on trains and at stations, searched individuals during joint operations and confiscated dangerous weapons and fraudulent tickets.
With enforcement success on track, the next priority is expected to be closing down non-compliant scrap dealers and lobbying for legislative changes to permit only traceable electronic payment methods. The current practice of cash-for-copper-no-questions-asked encourages illegal and illicit scrap dealing, according to Metrorail Western Cape regional manager Richard Walker.
By October 2018, 40 trains had been torched in Western Cape since 2015 and 175 carriages destroyed.