There’s something about the Cape Town train system that makes us all hate, yet love it, all at the same time. As sad as it is, Cape Metrorail, or “Metrofail” (as it has become known) holds a very special place in the hearts of Cape Town public transport commuters. I myself am a “trainer” (a phrase I have coined for people who travel by train), and am going to attempt to unpack all the many reasons we love, or hate, Cape Town’s most used mode of public transport. If you have been considering whether or not to start using the train to commute, I do hope that by the end of this article, I have helped you make I’m your mind.
I think the first topic that ever comes up, when one starts talking about the train in Cape Town is safety. Is it safe? Honestly, I would give it a yes. Not always, though -much depends on the times you travel, and the route you take. I would give the safety, on a whole, a whopping 75% mark (if it were a test). It does have to be said though, do not expect the security guard to leap up and save you in a dangerous situation, because the truth of the matter is, they’re probably more scared than you.
The second question that always arises is, “Are the trains reliable?”. Well, honey, they don’t call it “Metrofail” for nothing! -There will never be a day when all trains are on-time, with no delays or cancellations. Never! Delays can be anywhere between three minutes and over an hour -no jokes. When trains are off-schedule, expect them to be packed to the rim, with people hanging out the doors, and standing in between the carriages. Inside the carriage will be like being in a sardine can. Do not be alarmed if you are touched in funny places -just take it all in!
If there ever is a problem with the trains, don’t bother asking people who work for the rail company, because believe it or not, they will not know what the problem is, what day it is, or what their first names are. Whatever you do, please do not ask for a refund if your train has been cancelled, because there’s no way you’ll get a cent of your money back.
Please note that Cape Metrofail trains are not the Blue Train! They are dirty, grubby and filled with dreadful graffiti. Sometimes there are unexpected surprises too -like a pond of vomit on the floor. Yes, it’s a germ’s paradise -lest we forget about fellow passengers sneezing or coughing all over you. Speaking about fellow “trainers”, they actually lighten up this nightmare on a whole, and make the trip bearable.
The train is a hub of cultural diversity, with people of all ages, races, religions, gender groups, and income brackets, from the bergies (tramps) to school kids playing ghastly music from their cellphones (on full blast), to anties en route to visit friends, to businessman with Macbook Pros. All of these people take in the experience of the Cape Metrorail daily, and add to the rainbow nation on the train.
There are many people who try and make a living from the passengers on the trains. There is a range of hawkers who sell everything from peanuts, to nail-clippers, incense sticks, ice lollies, cool drinks, and imported chocolates that quite obviously fell off the back of a truck. There are also buskers, who can either be in the form of some street guys, who truly smell horrid, singing klopse and boere songs, getting a few of the words wrong here and there; to what I like to call “the blind choir”. There are a few different “blind choirs”. They predominantly sing gospel songs, each choir with their own unique song, that helps you differentiate between the groups. It’s normal a blind person being led by a person who can see.
The Cape Metrofail is not for everyone, but is definitely something everyone needs to experience at some point in life. I do hope I’ve helped you make up your mind about using it; however, I do encourage you, if you haven’t yet taken that leap of faith, to try the Metrorail at least once. It’s an experience you will never forget!
Jonathan Duguid (@theDramaKing)