The disruption to the Gautrain service owing to copper cable theft was “very disappointing”, Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) CEO Jack van der Merwe said this week.
“There is a direct impact on operations, but also on people’s long-term view of the service.
“The only thing I can really sell is certainty – it will take you 15 minutes to get there, 29 minutes to get there. If this is threatened, it will hurt the Gautrain service.”
Van der Merwe said the Gautrain commuter link was especially vulnerable to perceptions around certainty, as the GMA expected 75% of customers to be loyalty customers – in other words buying seven-day or 35-day passes at a discounted rate.
He believed the impact of the recent disruption to services would only be seen in September, as many commuters were still testing the system in August, before committing to buying long-term tickets.
Cable thieves twice halted the service between Centurion and Pretoria stations since the start of operations on the Johannesburg – Tshwane link on August 2. One incident was at a substation, and the other involved signalling cabels.
“We are addressing the issue at the highest level,” said Van der Merwe. “We have all the major roleplayers on board.”
Van der Merwe did not want to divulge how the problem of copper cable theft would be addressed, as he said this would hand those responsible too much ammunition in how to avoid arrest.
He added that the Gautrain’s copper cables were not encased in concrete as pondered when the train was still on the drawing board, as maintenance would become a nightmare.
“What if we wanted to run more cables at some point?”
Bombela spokesperson Errol Braithwaite told Engineering News Online that the Gautrain operator would consider a range of technologies to prevent copper cable theft, even though the system already featured guard patrols, closed-circuit television and a fully fenced rail reserve.
He added that the “authorities had to up the seriousness with which they viewed copper theft. The intrinsic value of the copper might be relatively low, but the consequential costs to the economy are enormous”.
The first copper cable theft saw 54 trains cancelled before the service could be resumed.