There is no better way to sum my up the duality of my current existence than to follow me on my weekly trip to my office in Johannesburg.
My day starts off at 3h40 and is followed by a 4km walk to the nearest Metrorail Train Station at Mamelodi Gardens. I pay R6 and then hop off 20 minutes later at Hatfield and then cross the road to the Gautrain station and arrive in Sandton 34 minutes later.
This is the theory. In reality, the road that separates these two Hatfield train stations might very well be as wide as the Indian Ocean.
Based on 2012 stats, the Gautrain has a 98.6% success rate for trains leaving within a 3-minute window period of its scheduled departure. This puts it above global benchmarks such as the London Overground and Heathrow Express.
Quite rightly then, the Metrorail and I have an unhappy love affair. It has met its scheduled departure time exactly 0% of the four times I have graced its platforms. In fact, the trains have been 40 minutes late on average. If I had made a daily trip to Joburg this week, the 4h30 train I should have caught would not have arrived at all. It was broken with no serviceable replacement on standby. So the default would have been the 05h00 train with a double commutership clambouring for precious space onboard.
Today was just another depressing Metrorail interaction. This time a goods locomotive was on fire and had stalled on the track. Together with my landlord, we had to walk for 60 minutes to get to the next train station down dusty and dark service roads. He had no cash for a R14 taxi trip and neither did I. From the milling crowds at the “Eerste Fabriek” station who had also made cross-country treks, I heard the platitude “Shame umlungu.” Hardly shame for me. This is a transient experience. My daily livelihood does not depend on such an unreliable service.
And then I cross the road at Hatfield, I am crossing over into the developed world with lighting, security guards, signage everywhere, seats on a heated train and a passenger service that leaves to the second. The optimist in me says that surely if we can do it for the Gautrain, then why can’t we can do it for the Metrorail. After all, they both run on train tracks and leave and arrive at stations.
I hope that the R51 billion upgrade and expansion of the current rail infrastructure will actually start benefiting the voiceless because it is “Shame abantu” right now.