The Gautrain is on Track

The question on everyone’s lips is whether we will be ready for the Fifa 2010 Soccer World Cup. From soccer stadiums to road upgrades, South Africa’s sectors are coming together to host one of the biggest events the African continent has ever seen. One such project, the Gautrain, has been running since 2000 – four years before the announcement was made to hold the games in the country. 

Building the Gautrain
The Gautrain system, with a fleet of 24 state-of-the-art train-sets, will cover 80km of dual track, with 15km of tunnel, 205 bridges and ten brand new stations. In time for the World Cup, phase one of the project will be completed by May 2010, with stations at OR Tambo International, Rhodesfield, Marlboro and Sandton. The second phase, to be completed by April 2011, will include lines to and from Pretoria, with stations at Hatfield, Pretoria City Central, Centurion, Midrand, Marlboro, Sandton, Rosebank and Park. There will also be links to this line leading to Sandton, Rhodesfield, Marlboro and OR Tambo International. 

As a priority, security will include 450 CCTV cameras spread across the trains, stations and parking areas, as well as 350 patrolling security personnel. The project is currently finalising negotiations with the SAPS to base a police station at each of the train stations. “We are confident that from a personal security point of view, we can safeguard people using this mode of public transport,” says Project Manager of the Gautrain, Jack van der Merwe.  

Spending up to R3 million per hour, with an overall budget of R25 billion, the construction spans 52 sites simultaneously. Not without its challenges, the project faced a near-disaster crisis with a recent sinkhole in Oxford Road. “When something like that happens, it is important to see that your safety systems worked – and in that situation, they did,” Van der Merwe says, explaining that the tunnel boring machine was removing more material out of the tunnel than it was supposed to. After investigating, the team discovered that an old water pipe had burst, which caused the soil to move down. Once they had filled the sinkhole with gravel and constructed a concrete slab over it, they were able to continue with construction after 36 hours..  

Reliable and eco-friendly 
“We can’t keep building ourselves out of congestion,” says Van der Merwe. In Los Angeles, in an attempt to overcome congestion, more roads were built. Today, the city covers over 100km of space with 20 to 30 lane freeways – and has some of the worst pollution statistics in the United States.

After conducting an environmental assessment of the project, it was found that if 
135 000 people used the Gautrain per day, about 19 000 tons of carbon monoxide pollution would be prevented every year. “Not only will the Gautrain be the more environmentally friendly option, it will also be the more reliable choice,” says Van der Merwe. “A trip by car from Pretoria to Johannesburg takes about 60 to 180 minutes, depending on the level of conjestion and delays, but on the Gautrain, it will take you only 38 minutes.”

Part of the Gautrain marketing strategy is to make public transport a mode of choice, rather than a mode of force. “Currently, people are using public transport because they have no other option,” Van der Merwe explains. “Rather, we want people to view using public transport as an intelligent choice of commuting.”

The Gautrain will run every 10 minutes during peak hours and in the off-peak periods, at a maximum of every 20 minutes – from early in the morning until late at night. 

Cost to the man on the street
At the time of conducting a feasibility study, the cost of fuel was at R4 per litre with the perceived cost of motoring at about 60 cents per km. This calculation translated into about R20 per ticket between Pretoria and Johannesburg and about R12 between Rhodesfield and Sandton, using the Gautrain. Since then, petrol prices have soared to over R10 per litre. “The South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) is currently upgrading all the freeways in Gauteng,” Van der Merwe says. “Once this is completed, all cars will have transponders installed to be tolled automatically when using those roads,” Once this system is up and running, the average person can expect to pay about R1 000 extra – on top of the R100 each day in fuel costs between Pretoria and Johannesburg. “These developments make using the Gautrain a far more viable option,” emphasizes Van der Merwe.

Skills development and transfer
“The Gautrain project has been beneficial to ordinary South Africans, in that skills development and skills transfer programmes have been put into place,” says Van der Merwe. The project has, since its inception, created 21 600 jobs with training programmes and apprenticeships for about 2 000 people. The Concessionaire has also set up an office in London in the hopes of recruiting the skills needed for the project. To date, 51 South African engineers, who were working overseas, have since returned to work on the project.“We are bringing something that is comparable on an international level, to South Africa,” Van der Merwe says. “The project has brought in a wide range of new technology, created many jobs and has put South Africa on the map in terms of public transport.” 

Author: Charlene Yared-West. Go Gauteng, September 2008.

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