A topic that’s been on my mind for a while is that of commuting by train in Cape Town. I take the train to work every day, from Wynberg station to the central station in town. Mostly when people find this out, they are a little surprised. “But no one takes the train.” and “Is it safe?” or alternatively “if more people took the train, we could solve our transport situation.”
I am left with quite mixed feelings.
On the one hand, the train seems to be awfully full of people every morning if nobody is traveling by train. And even if you do mean – “no one I would know” – there are in fact, people from all classes, races and ages. Men in suits, laquered ladies in their matching earing-handbag and stilleto outfits, blind beggars, school children, hippies and bank tellers.
Is it safe? Well – that depends. I have had by bag snatched when traveling outside of peak hours. And taking the train at night is a new experience entirely. Leaving aside the effect of regular rush hour driving on your sanity, consider the risks you accept when driving to work every morning. The excellent chance of an accident – at best an expensive fender bender. So I’m not sure if traveling by train is such a risky option. You may get your pocket picked if you are very unlucky – but its unlikely you will die. At least on the trains I take.
But on the other hand its not really a solution to our transport problems in Cape Town.
I can take a train because I live near a station and my work is 15 minutes walk from the station. The distance one has to travel to and from the station is not the problem – the issue is that the route to many stations (for example Cape Town Central) is not safe at the best of times. It is when traveling from the station to your home or work that you are most at risk.
On a typical morning I have to let at least three trains pass by because they are so full. People hanging out the doors and standing between carriages – and this is with a train every 5 minutes or so. I hate to think what would happen if even more people decided to commute by train. Surely we should not be figuring out more ways of getting thousands of people to the same place at the same time, but rather changing where they need to go, and when they need to get there?
That said, taking the train is still a pleasure. Even when it is packed full with a preacher shouting in your ear its better than driving. It is a time you can spend thinking about your day. It is one of the few places where you still see people reading. Every second passenger is crouched over a book or magazine. And it is the best place for eavesdropping.
For example – two middle aged business men spend the entire journey chatting about this model of car and that aspect of the exchange rate. They laugh at one another’s jokes and agree on just about everything. When we finally reach Cape Town Central, they shake hands and the one says: “By the way – I’m Steve. Nice meeting you!”