Station invasion headache

A broken window at Athlone train station.

Vagrants and gangsters are still occupying an abandoned ticket office at Athlone train station, despite Covid-19 lockdown regulations, say residents.

Residents and business owners have complained about the issue for several years.

A resident, who didn’t want his name published as he fears retaliation, says he is fed up with the noise and smells coming from the station.

The occupants swore and shouted at residents who confronted them, he said.

“Why are they not being thrown out, especially now with this virus? It can spread so easily in that building, as it is dirty and unhygienic. Why must we as ratepayers go through this among all the other issues we have in the area?”

Residents had not taken further action because they feared that they and their families would be victimised, he said.

“We cannot expose ourselves because we will be putting a target on our own backs. They rob people using the trains and subways, and, at night, they whistle at each other as a code for something which could be signalling to their partners that people are not home and they can break in.”

About 20 to 50 people are in the ticket office. They sleep on mattresses, some on the rafters in the roof; some have added wooden shelters to the building. Their clothes hang up in and around the building, there are layers of dirt on the floor and the stench of human waste hangs over the building. There are no toilets. Windows are broken. The one side of the building is boarded up but the other side isn’t, and that’s where the squatters get in.

They have refused to speak to the Athlone News.

In July 2017, Metrorail spokeswoman Riana Scott, said they were aware of the state of the ticket office, which was built in 2012 and planned to reclaim it at some point in the future.

By August 2019, with the problem still unsolved, Ms Scott appealed to the public to report all suspicious activity near the subway to the police as the reports informed the crime-pattern analysis police relied on to deploy resources.

Ms Scott also said growing unemployment was driving up vagrancy and that Metrorail removed vagrants from railway property on a “rotational basis”.

But it remains unclear why, after more than two years, Metrorail has not evicted those occupying it.

Athlone ward councillor Rashid Adams said the City could not evict the occupants but he would arrange for social workers to visit and offer them alternative shelter and health screening.

Athlone police spokeswoman Sergeant Zita Norman, said they had no jurisdiction over Metrorail property but they patrolled the area. She said that police had never arrested any of the occupants as yet.

Metrorail had not responded to queries by the time this edition went to print.