Fireproofed carriages? There’s only one foolproof way to fix ...

Ideas

Fireproofed carriages? There’s only one foolproof way to fix trains

It is a palliative measure to mitigate damage by arsonists, but voters can light a fire under those responsible on May 8

Columnist


On April 2, a single, high-tech train carriage will be unveiled at Cape Town station, demonstrating planned improvements to Prasa’s rail stock. More notably, the arrival of this lone carriage will double the number of unburned carriages in the city’s rail network.
According to a report in The Cape Argus, the mock-up will be revealed by Blade Nzimande, which seems appropriate given that he is a mock-up transport minister. Back in 2014 he described reports of the millions wasted on Nkandla as “white people’s lies”, so there remains a small but tantalising possibility that Nzimande will blame the current implosion of the rail network on white people’s fires, or perhaps white people’s lyres, or even white people’s fries. That’s the great part of having someone as entirely hollowed-out as Nzimande in a senior position: the potential for comedy is immense.
Speaking of which: when I read the headline about the new prototype I instinctively went to satire, wondering if the new carriages would be fireproof. And it turns out they are: public transport in SA is now such a grim joke that engineers are delivering the punchlines faster than the satirists. Even the date of big reveal seems to be an in-joke, as if it had been scheduled for April Fools’ Day but, true to form, would only get there a day later.
Fireproofing carriages is, obviously, a good step. And yet I can’t help feeling that it is palliative, an admission that trains will keep getting targeted by arsonists and the best we can hope for is that their fires don’t do much damage. It does nothing to address the overall collapse of the system. Because, of course, that’s not Prasa’s job. That’s the politicians’ job. And because we employ the politicians, it’s also our job.
If I could wave a magic wand, I’d make politicians directly accountable for the vast failure on our train tracks. For every minute a train was late, I would deduct R100 from parliamentary salaries or pensions: a single train delayed by an hour would see R6,000 docked from those bulging bank accounts. Every time cables were stolen, I’d cut the power to the parliamentary village.
But I don’t have a magic wand. All I have is what we all have: the power to remove these ruinous cretins from power, so that they take their shiny, pointy shoes off this country’s throat and allow competent people to work towards a country where we don’t have to fireproof our trains.
Yes, the 2nd of April will be fun. But right now the only date that really matters is the 8th of May.

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