Gautrain tunnel breaks through

28 October 2008

South Africa’s Gautrain rapid rail link has passed another construction milestone, with the tunnels between Sandton and Marlboro meeting to make a seamless 4.2-kilometre run between the two stations in Johannesburg.

Construction on the Gautrain, a R25-billion rapid rail link between Johannesburg, Pretoria and OR Tambo International Airport (formerly Johannesburg International Airport) began in September 2006.

The first link in the Gautrain network, between the airport and Sandton in Johannesburg, is due to be 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.


Shosholoza was sung under the streets of Sandton last week when the Gautrain construction teams “met” at a breakthrough tunnel ceremony.

The actual breakthrough took place a month ago, on 24 September, but on Thursday morning, 23 October, the new premier of Gauteng province, Paul Mashatile, officiated some 3.8 kilometres into the Marlboro tunnel when a paper wall was broken and the team from Sandton stepped over to greet the Marlboro construction team.

The point was 20 metres under the Sandspruit in Sandton. Construction had progressed at 15 metres a day to reach this milestone. Everyone lifted a glass of champagne in celebration.

“Accurate geological surveying ensured that these two tunnels were right on target when the remaining few metres separating the two tunnels were blasted away,” reads a Gautrain statement.

The tunnel between Sandton and Marlboro is 4.2km long, of the total 15 kilometres that is being excavated. Eleven metres wide and some seven metres high, the tunnel will accommodate two sets of rail tracks, separated by a wall.

Tunnelling has taken place through “complex deformed geology associated with historic rock movements”, in addition to solid bedrock.

Much work has been done at Marlboro since September 2006. The Marlboro station now has a large concrete parkade structure rising up, with a basement and first floor parking deck in place.

Meanwhile, the tunnel between Park Station and Rosebank progresses, having reached the suburb of Killarney. It has been excavated under the M1 North in Killarney, and is now making its way under the residential blocks of the suburb. It is some 15 metres below the surface.

‘Proof of what a nation can do’

Back above ground, Gauteng transport minister Ignatius Jacobs the Gautrain’s progress was “proof of what a nation can do”, adding: “It will be a prouder day still when the trains are zooming through the tunnels.”

“Close to 10 000 people are being employed on the project, with 44 000 indirect jobs,” Mashatile said. “Local SMMEs are also benefiting. We are sourcing a lot of material locally – more than R1-billion worth. We are contributing to the growth of the country.”

The premier explained that a lot of other initiatives had been stimulated around the stations of Rosebank, Sandton and Midrand. “We are hoping in future that there’ll be more and more developments along the corridor.”

Gautrain Management Agency chief executive Jack van der Merwe praised the construction teams, saying the Gautrain project could only work as a private-public partnership. “I am proud to see these things happening. It shows the partnership is working.”

He joked that when the breakthrough happened, he was disappointed because he had hoped that they wouldn’t meet and he would get two tunnels for the price of one.

A week before the breakthrough ceremony, on 16 October, the media was taken on a tour of the coach assembly plant in Nigel, southeast of Johannesburg. The coaches are being manufactured in Derby in England, for final assembly here.

Mashatile commented that Nigel was “almost a dying town”, but would now be revitalised and more residents would be employed. He anticipated that by the end of 2009 the trains would be tested, to be ready for 2010.

“I am looking forward to more and more of these kinds of infrastructure projects,” he said. “The work is on schedule – we will complete the work as planned.”

The Gautrain will travel at speeds of 160 kilometres an hour on a wider rail gauge than is normal in South Africa. The standard gauge in the country is 1 067 millimetres, whereas the Gautrain gauge will be set at the international gauge standard of 1 435 millimetres, to accommodate the greater speed of the train.

Source: City of Johannesburg