Chunks of track were stolen over the course of several months from a line used to take trains from Johannesburg to a depot in the town of Nigel, The Star newspaper reports. Five men have appeared in court after being “caught in the act” by the security guards who patrol the track, the paper says.
“They’re experts. They’re not making mistakes,” says Thumbu Mahlangu, a member of the local transport committee. Rail spokesman Mike Asefovitz agrees: “These aren’t the little guys. To take this kind of weight and to cut it up you need specialised machinery.” The stolen rails are reportedly worth about $120,000 on the scrap metal market.
The theft has left 34 brand new train cars stuck at the maintenance plant just as they were due to be put into use, and the depot now fears for its future with about 700 jobs potentially at risk. In South Africa, metal theft is a serious problem costing the economy hundreds of millions of dollars a year.