Angry train passengers rounded on a female train driver who refused to jump a red signal in KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday morning, the United National Transport Union (UNTU) said on Tuesday.
According to UNTU general secretary Steve Harris, 38-year-old train driver Gugu Phakathi came under siege while waiting at a red signal for a goods train to pass between Durban and Stanger.
Phakathi was told to stop her train for a repair on Tuesday morning, but when she got going again, she had to stop at a signal to let a Transnet goods train through.
“The commuters were furious because they were already late for work,” said Phakathi in the statement.
“They wanted to know from me why the goods train cannot wait for them to get to work. The commuters instructed me to pass the red signal, but I tried to calm them down and told them that I cannot do that because I would be endangering their lives.”
Angry commuters got off the train and tried to get into Phakathi’s cabin, verbally abusing her.
Unable to calm them as she usually does, she said she locked herself in the cabin, while stones were being hurled at her, sounding like shots as they hit the metal.
“I was so traumatized, and I was crying, but I managed to phone the office and begged them to send the protection services to rescue me.”
Security rescued the single mom of two from the mob. She is scheduled to go for counseling.
UNTU has urged Transnet to give passenger trains the right of way over cargo trains.
Meanwhile, Metrorail in Western Cape was fuming over the latest cable theft that was causing delays of over an hour on the crucial central line on Tuesday and warned that any more damages would bring the service to its knees.
The company said the overnight cable theft at Mutual, Woodstock, and Woltemade affected the electronic tracking of where trains were on the line. Metrorail had to default to manual tracking which was causing the delays.
Regional manager Richard Walker believes that despite more than 20 arrests since July, rail-related crime has not shifted significantly, and not a single illegal scrap metal dealer had been closed down.
“Cable theft remains the single biggest contributor to unreliable and unpredictable service, the sooner authorities clamp down on supply (thieves) and demand (scrap dealers), the sooner the train service can be stabilized,” he said.
He warned that the Passenger Rail Agency of SA’s (Prasa) modernisation programme in the province would be in jeopardy if vandalism did not stop.
Meanwhile, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Transport was meeting Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi in Cape Town to discuss alleged irregular spending at Prasa, and deepening concerns about the state of the country’s rail services.
Outside, the #UniteBehind campaign protested over alleged corruption over rail tenders.
By: Jenni Evans/News24