ZOOMING IN

Posted on Jul 28, 2005 in Media Reports

Joburg to Pretoria in less than 38 minutes – even in rush hour. Sandton to Johannesburg International Airport in 15 minutes.

Sounding too good to be true? But when the Gautrain zooms into operation this will be the reality of thousands of commuters.

All aboard – the Gautrain dream

It’s been talked about for years – It will cost R40 million a week to build and if all goes well it should be running in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Joburg to Pretoria in less than 38 minutes – even in rush hour. Sandton to Johannesburg International Airport in 15 minutes.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But when the Gautrain zooms into operation this will be the daily reality of thousands of commuters. And that should cut down dramatically on pressure (and swearing) on the traffic-choked Ben Schoeman Highway.

Talk of the 80 km train link has been bandied about for so long motorists had started to think it was nothing but a pipedream. But work will finally begin on the state-of-the-art rapid rail network in less than a month – and if all goes well it should be up and running in five years, just in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Finally a safe, efficient, cost-effective and environment-friendly solution to Gauteng’s growing traffic problem is in sight. It’s predicted about one-fifth of Pretoria-Joburg commuters will switch from cars or taxis to the new train when it gets going.

Costing in the region of R40 million a week to build, it’s the most exciting development the province has seen in decades and is expected to create some 110 000 jobs, save millions of rands and many lives by cutting down on the number of road accidents and improve air pollution levels by reducing the volume of cars on the road. It should also end the grumbles of foreign visitors about the dismal state of public transport in our most densely populated region.

The Gautrain will be among the fastest and most modern metropolitan rail systems in the world and nothing like the commuter trains run by Metrorail.  For a start it will run on the wider international gauge or track, which allows us to buy state-of-the art trains “off the shelf” from First World countries.

The wider gauge allows trains to go a lot faster – in fact the ride will be so quick and smooth you’ll feel you’ve barely left the station when you get to the other side.

But sorry, Cape Town and Durban – you aren’t about to get one of these systems any time soon.

There will be two types of train – one for the Joburg/Pretoria commuter service and the other for the airport shuttle. “The airport shuttle will be more luxurious and will look similar to London’s Heathrow Express,” Gautrain project leader Jack van der Merwe says. “Both types of train will have luxurious fabric seats and Internet connection facilities. The airport shuttle will have TV monitors as well. The idea is to provide comfort and the opportunity for people to use the time constructively.”

The commuter line will connect Pretoria and Johannesburg, stopping at other stations along the way including Rosebank, Sandton, Marlboro, Midrand, Centurion and Hatfield in Pretoria.

The trains will travel between 160 km and 180 km an hour and there’ll be at least six trains an hour between Joburg and Pretoria in each direction, running from 5.30 am to 8.30 pm every day.

Gautrain’s airport shuttle will run between Sandton and the airport, stopping at Rhodesfield in Kempton Park on the East Rand. “Sandton has become the hotel capital of greater Johannesburg so it makes sense for the airport link to operate from there,” Jack says. “As the demand grows we’ll also look at direct train links from the airport to, say, Pretoria or Rosebank.”

With minimal road traffic the car trip between Sandton and the airport takes at least 40 minutes and when the roads are busy it takes up to an hour and a half. “Now it will take 15 minutes,” Jack says.

To add to the convenience airport passengers will be able to check in their luggage at Sandton station. There will be about 20 trains operating the shuttle service.

Commuter carriages will accommodate about 80 seated and 20 standing passengers, while the airport shuttle carriages will cater for 70 seated passengers to allow space for luggage.

One of the biggest concerns is how people will get from townships and suburbs to Gautrain stations. The plan is to have 300 dedicated buses and 80 minibuses painted with the Gautrain logo to ferry passengers to and from Gautrain stations, servicing residential areas up to 10 km away. These vehicles will use special fast lanes.

The minibus taxi industry won’t be curtailed, Jack says. “Taxis will obviously adapt to the demands of their passengers so I foresee some routes being changed but the Gautrain is not expected to take business away from them.”

All the stations will have park-and-ride facilities for people who want to park their cars and catch the Gautrain to work. “We’ll be adding 9 000 parking bays to existing parking facilities next to all stations involved,” Jack says. “These areas will be protected by closed-circuit TV cameras and security guards.”

Which raises the issue of safety. Just how safe will Gautrain be, given Johannesburg is one of the world’s worst crime spots?

Jack says 450 CCTV cameras will be dotted around the stations, supplemented by a heavy contingent of security guards, Metro Police and SAPS officers constantly patrolling the platforms. Gautrain guards will patrol the trains.

The question on everyone’s lips is how much a Gautrain ticket will cost – and the answer is quite a lot. We’re looking five years ahead so it’s impossible to say exactly what the price will be but it will obviously be higher than a normal bus or taxi fare. “The fare will be a little less than the cost of running a private vehicle,” Jack says.  “So if it costs 60c a kilometre to run your car, incorporating petrol and maintenance costs, you’re looking at around 50c a km by Gautrain which would make it about R25 from Johannesburg to Pretoria.”

The airport shuttle will be much pricier and is likely to be more than R200 by the time the service starts. But this is in line with shuttle services in other international capitals. “We will adjust the fare to a little below what a taxi or bus trip from the airport to Sandton costs in 2010, though it’s difficult to predict what that will be,” Jack says. “Even now a taxi or bus trip costs R200.”

But as on European train systems commuters will be able to buy discounted seasonal, monthly, fortnightly, weekly or daily tickets, which will also give them automatic access to the dedicated buses.

Most Gautrain commuters are expected to be today’s “middle-class motorists” who leave home in the early hours of the morning to avoid peak-hour traffic on the Ben Schoeman Highway.

On the Gautrain it will take 38 minutes to get from Pretoria to Johannesburg or vice versa.

Gautrain will ease the strain on the roads, Jack predicts -not to mention soothing your stress.

Fast facts

  • Three of the 10 stations will be underground. The route includes 20 km of tunnels and 9 km of subways and bridges.
  • 260 000 concrete sleepers and 20 000 tons of steel will be manufactured for the tracks. About 10 million cubic metres of soil will be moved.
  • Upgrades are planned for 65 road intersections close to the stations.
  • Almost 70 000 jobs will be created during Gautrain’s construction phase. A further 40 000 jobs could be created as a result of related economic activities.
  • Savings in car accident costs are projected at R15 million a year.

Gautrain is expected to cut carbon dioxide emissions from cars by 70 000 tons a year. Canadian train manufacturer Bombardier (which has a 25 per cent stake in Bombela, the consortium awarded the Gautrain contract) will design and manufacture the carriages in a UK factory but they’ll be assembled in Nigel on the East Rand. A Cape Town or Durban version of the Gautrain Is not on the cards as they don’t yet have the population density to justify it.

YOU – 28 July 2005 – Page 162 - By Helen Grange

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