13 October 2006
A Canadian-French-South African consortium has begun construction on South Africa’s Gautrain, a R25-billion rapid rail link between Johannesburg, Pretoria and OR Tambo International Airport (formerly Johannesburg International Airport).
According to Business Day, the government will foot about R21.9-billion of the Gautrain’s construction bill, with an additional R3.5-billion to be provided by the private sector – making it the biggest public-private partnership South Africa has yet seen.
It is also now the biggest rail project under construction in the world.
Construction of the first link in the Gautrain network, between the airport and Sandton in Johannesburg, started on 28 September and will take around 45 months to complete – the aim being to have the link in place by June 2010, in time for the Football World Cup.
The rest of the network, including the section between Sandton and central Johannesburg and the section between Sandton and Pretoria, is due to be completed nine months later, by March 2011.
The full 80-kilometre route will have three anchor stations – at the airport and in central Johannesburg and Pretoria – and seven other stations: at Rosebank, Sandton and Marlboro in Johannesburg, at Rhodesfield in Kempton Park, at Centurion and Hatfield in Pretoria, and at Midrand between the two cities.
Speeds of up to 180km/h
Travelling at speeds of up to 160 to 180 kilometres an hour, the Gautrain will take commuters from Johannesburg to Pretoria in under 40 minutes, while its dedicated air passenger service will make the trip between Sandton and the airport a 15-minute breeze.
Most of the route in Johannesburg and its suburbs will be underground, moving from Park Station in the city centre under the Johannesburg Hospital in Parktown towards Rosebank and on to Sandton.
To begin with, the inter-city commuter service will run at least six trains an hour in both directions, operating for approximately 18 hours a day, backed up by dedicated buses to transport passengers to and from stations.
The air passenger service will include facilities suited to travellers’ needs, such as facilities for checking in luggage at Sandton station.
Besides easing traffic congestion and related air pollution in Gauteng province – South Africa’s economic heartland – the Gautrain will connect with buses and taxis to help create a more efficient public transport system and thus stimulate economic growth in the country.
“This is not about elite public transport,” Transport Minister Jeff Radebe said at the sod-turning ceremony in Johannesburg in September. “[It] is about creating a mass transit system that caters for workers and business people, civil servants and scholars, shoppers and leisure seekers to get them where they want to be – safely, securely and affordably.”
Will it be ready for 2010?
While every effort will be made to have the Gautrain link between Sandton and OR Tambo International Airport operational in time for the 2010 World Cup, the project does not revolve around the soccer tournament.
Briefing Parliament’s transport committee in Cape Town on Wednesday, Gautrain project leader Jack van der Merwe emphasised that the R25-billion system was designed primarily for Gauteng commuters, and that it could not be rushed simply to ensure that it was ready for tourists visiting the country in June and July 2010.
The airport-Sandton link would be ready in time for 2010, Van der Merwe said, but would not guarantee this. “We’d rather be late than be sorry … The volume of work is such that you can’t rush it.”
The Gautrain is being built by the Bombela Consortium, which includes Montreal-based Bombardier Inc – the world’s biggest manufacturer of trains – and French civil contractor Bouygues Travaux Publics.
It also includes RATP International, the operator of the metro and commuter railways in Paris, South African civil contractor Murray & Roberts, and Strategic Partners Group, which comprises a number of South African black economic empowerment companies.
According to some estimates, the project could employ as many as 18 000 people over the next 20 years and generate business activities worth up to R3.6-billion per annum.