Railway operators should be forced to properly fence off railway lines near residential areas, said Mayoral Committee Member for Social Development Grant Pascoe. Pascoe has written to Minister of Transport, Sibusiso Ndebele, asking him to produce legislation requiring railway operators to provide fencing on high-risk stretches and make them more vandal-resistant.

In 2007, 227 people died on railway tracks across the country  80 of them in Cape Town. And the poorest and most vulnerable people are most at risk, Pascoe said. The situation could not be allowed to continue despite pedestrians putting themselves at risk by using illegal crossings, he said. “This will place added financial demands on the operators, but the loss of human lives must outweigh a less healthy balance sheet.” But while Metrorail says most deaths were due to people crossing railway lines illegally, people who live in houses built near unfenced railway tracks said they feared for their safety.

The railway tracks at New Rest, Gugulethu, separate the township from Heideveld where a majority of New Rest children go to school. In the early morning, hundreds of Heideveld High School children cross the tracks to get to school. They said even though they felt unsafe the alternative route was too far. “It’s not safe. If there was a bridge at least… There are a lot of people who are getting injured and killed in this lane,” Lindela Theus said. Heideveld High School pupil Samkelo Mqomboti said when his family moved to New Rest there was a fence between the railway tracks and the houses. The fence had been removed without a warning to residents.

Another pupil, Sikho Ndlazulwana, said his seven-year-old sister had died while crossing the tracks on December 17 last year, but that no one from Metrorail had noted their complaints. “The Metrorail people said it wasn’t their problem, that there was a sign that says ‘no crossing’, and we should talk to our government about it.” Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott said there had been at least seven deaths related to train incidents this year, a phenomenon she said railway systems across the world share. Fencing projects were a priority and were “implemented according to available funding”.