I used to be a loyal train commuter for a number of years when I still worked at the University of Cape Town, so I know Metrorail pretty well – still, the last thing I expected was for them to try and kill me a couple of weeks ago!
So there I was, happily driving home from work, happy because I had left a little earlier in order to make it through to the karate camp in Betty’s Bay on time and thus had managed to miss rush hour traffic. Which is awesome.
Now if you know Muizenberg you’ll know where the Muizenberg Train Station is, and more importantly, you’ll know of the railway crossing that is directly next to the station. Well anyway, as I turned the corner and came face to face with the railway crossing, I was delighted to see that the booms were still up and so merrily began to cross over the train tracks – when all of a sudden I noticed that without any warning whatsoever, the booms were starting to descend!
Already past the first boom and in the middle of the tracks, I hit the accelerator and sped across, literally making it to safety just as the booms came down, without so much as a second to spare! And I swear, it wasn’t much more than a second or two later when a train came hurtling past anyway, racing through that very spot where I had been cruising long just moments earlier!
My heart pounding a little faster, I could barely believe my lucky escape but that feeling of relief was soon replaced by anger when I thought about the situation and couldn’t come up with a single reason as to why there weren’t any audible siren or alert to mark the change in boom position, nor any visible control lights at driver eye-level (there are a couple sitting on the edge of the booms – quite useful when the booms are down, utterly useless when they’re raised it turns out!).
Funnily enough though, at the karate camp I bumped into a person who had suffered a very similar fate at the exact same railway crossing just a month or two prior to my incident. Apparently as he entered the crossing, the booms also all of a sudden descended, but this time the front boom actually landed on his bakkie’s bonnet, forcing him to hastily reverse, and in the process leave a couple of deep scratches on his car. Nevertheless, he did manage to extract his bakkie before he and his elderly dad got slammed by an oncoming train.
So come on Metrorail. That railway crossing is particularly dangerous because the station and overgrown fencing blocks off any view you might have of oncoming trains and the lack of a siren or some sort of audible alert seems completely ridiculous in this day and age! And while you’re at it, put up some proper, more visible traffic control lights too!
Update: I drove that way again last night just to make sure I wasn’t spouting complete bullshit seeing as the incident happened three weeks ago already. As it turns out, they do have signal lights next to the crossing, but they don’t seem to be in working order, so that’s still pretty useless. Still think they need to put up some sort of siren or audible warning system though – but I guess too many complaints from people living around the crossing will squash that one :(