Major milestone for Gautrain

11 July 2008

The first four-car train set for South Africa’s rapid rail link – known as the Gautrain – was handed over to Mbhazima Shilowa, premier of Gauteng province, at Bombardier’s assembly plant at Derby, England on Tuesday.

The Gautrain line between Johannesburg, Pretoria and OR Tambo International airport is currently under construction, in one of the biggest infrastructure projects ever seen in South Africa.

Construction of the first link in the Gautrain network, between the airport and Sandton in Johannesburg, began in September 2006 and is due to be complete in 2010, with the rest of the network due for completion in 2011.

Supported by a dedicated fleet of 125 buses, the Gautrain will be able to carry more than 100 000 passengers per day in each direction between Johannesburg and Pretoria.

“Gautrain has reached a major milestone in its delivery of world-class public transport to South Africa,” Shilowa said at Tuesday’s handing-over ceremony. “With uncompromising levels of safety, security, comfort and punctuality, passengers can look forward to unprecedented standards of service.

“For Gauteng’s people on the move, today is a step closer to the mobility that the golden train will bring.”

State-of-the-art rail cars

Gautrain’s rail cars are “based on the renowned Bombardier Electrostar series, known for their state-of-the-art technology and reliable, high-performance standards,” Gautrain said in a statement. “The lightweight aluminium car bodies – a first for South Africa – also offer increased energy efficiency and reduced maintenance requirements.”

Canadian company Bombardier, a 17% shareholder in the Bombela Concession Company contracted to design, build, operate and maintain the Gautrain, has been involved in eight private rail projects around the world, two of which were completed for the London Underground.

Gautrain will have 24 train sets of four cars each – 96 rail cars in total – designed to run at an operational speed of 160 kilometres per hour. Ten of these will be customised with features such as extra luggage space and wider seats for use on the Sandton-airport link.

According to Gautrain, there are more than 1 600 Electrostar vehicles in operation in the UK, “where they have an impressive record of reliability, with trains operating on London commuter routes achieving up to 80 000 kilometre MDBF (Mean Distance Between Failures).”

Skills transfer

The first 15 rail cars, plus the body shells for the complete fleet, will be manufactured at Bombardier Transportation’s facility in Derby. The body shells and some of the major components for the remaining 81 rail cars will be shipped to Union Carriage and Wagon (UCW) in Nigel, east of Johannesburg, for final assembly.

Teams from UCW, who are presently at Derby being trained in the assembly of the Gautrain rail cars, will constitute the core of the assembly teams when local production commences.

“As train maintenance requirements and equipment are highly specialised, dedicated technicians will be recruited locally and specially trained by Bombardier to maintain Gautrain according to the original equipment manufacturer’s specifications,” Gautrain said.

“Bombardier’s commitment to skills transfer also includes the local recruitment and training of drivers, as Gautrain’s driver compartments and control systems will have more advanced features than other trains presently running in South Africa.”

In order to meet the requirements for safety at higher speeds, Gautrain will operate on Standard Gauge track. Measuring 1 435 millimetres between rails, Standard Gauge is the predominant track gauge internationally, but was last used in South Africa in the 1860s. The narrower (1 065 millimetre) track gauge currenly used locally is known as Cape Gauge.

SAinfo reporter

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