Derelict buildings at Athlone train station are attracting crime, prostitution, vagrancy, and illegal dumping, say commuters.
Vagrants sleep in the buildings and urinate and defecate there. And there are mounds of rubbish inside.
One of the squatters, who didn’t want his name published, said he slept in one of the buildings with his wife and child because they had nowhere else to go.
He said he made about R150 a day collecting scrap for a recycling depot.
There is a strong stench of urine in the station subway.
The ticket office facing Birdwood Road, which was built in 2012, is now bricked up and home to drug dealers, addicts and prostitutes who get in through a small hole at the back, according to Athlone Community Police Forum deputy chairman, Edward Dou.
Metrorail spokeswoman, Riana Scott, told the Athlone News in 2017 that the ticket office would be reinstated, but that still hasn’t happened.
Mr Dou said he had tried in vain many times to meet with Prasa and the City of Cape Town to discuss conditions at the station.
“The safety and security has been seriously compromised at the station. Residents and commuters are scared to make use of all facilities at Athlone station due to robberies and threats on a daily basis,” he said.
“The amount of filth, drug selling and using and the lack of hygiene is so bad they might as well close the station if they are not going to do anything about it.”
Mr Dou said:“There is lack of lighting at the entire station, which is why it is so easy to rob people at night. There is a lack of ablution facilities, especially at night and on weekends, and there needs to be stricter access control to the station,” he said.
Natalie Barrish, who lives in Garlandale in a road at the back of the station, said houses in the area were burgled frequently, with the culprits jumping the wall and escaping across the railway land on the other side.
“When we hear the dogs barking, we know they are breaking in somewhere. If you look over the wall, you can see where they sit under the trees and go through the things they have stolen for the night.
“Many times, while smoking their drugs, they set the field alight, and then we have to phone the fire brigade to come out,” she said.
Mr Dou said the station property should be cleaned up or sold to a developer.
“In winter when it rains, the whole area is flooded and people can’t use the subway. Our elderly are too scared to use the subways and trains because they fear being robbed,” he said.
In response to questions from Athlone News, Ms Scott said they were aware of the vacant property, and it would either be leased or developed depending on each property’s zoning and land use.
“Facilities are fenced off to the public, only to be broken into and vandalised repeatedly because they have nowhere else to go. Dwellers can only be relocated through a legal process of eviction once the City has designated an alternative serviced site.”
She said vagrants are removed on a “rotational basis from scores of stations”.
The police arrested transgressors who were soon released, she said.
“It presents, at best, a brief respite and is not sustainable.”
The City of Cape Town’s law enforcement department spokesperson, Wayne Dyason, said that the vacant buildings on the station belong to the Passenger Railway Association of South Africa (Prasa) and the City has no jurisdiction over these buildings. He said that the City’s problem building unit has not received any complaints.
“The City’s law enforcement department conducts regular operations in the area to enforce the provisions of the Streets, Public Places and Noise Nuisances By-law. A key challenge is that street people who move from the area during these operations, return as soon as staff leave the area.”
Prasa did not respond to questions by the time this edition went to print.