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Gautrain ready to roll

Carol Hills

The Gautrain moved into operation between Sandton and the OR Tambo International Airport on Wednesday when it was awarded its safety permit.

The high-speed Gautrain moved out of testing and into operation between Sandton and the OR Tambo International Airport on Wednesday when it was awarded its safety permit.

“Viva Gautrain, viva,” deputy minister for transport, Jeremy Cronin, said in handing over the safety permit to the Bombela Operating Company. “Above all, viva public transport, viva.”

The focus would now move from the Gautrain’s engineers to the operating challenge when all the engineering was put to the test of
providing a service on the line, he said.

‘Just in time’
“... And we’re doing it just in time,” he added, referring to the Soccer World Cup, just days away.

“It has not been easy, but we have done it ... at no extra cost to the public purse.”

Cronin acknowledged that he had previously been critical of the Gautrain, and would have liked to have seen a more “transformational” route and more debate about the rail gauges used.

However, there were also many positives and he was not going to be a “party-pooper”.

“I share with you the excitement and sense of pride in what we’re doing here and this particular milestone ... not just because I enjoyed going up to 160 kilometres an hour,” he said.

Fantastic ride
Cronin was among a host of dignitaries whizzed from the Gautrain’s Marlboro Station to Sandton, then to the OR Tambo International Airport for the permit handover ceremony.

“Fantastic ride. It was wonderful to do,” he said, emphasising tongue-in-cheek that although the trip was legal—it was conducted under a testing and commissioning permit—“I’m not sure what I was doing in the driver’s cab was quite legal”.

“Eat your heart out,” he told officials at the launch. “If only we could see some of these facilities in othen nodes.”

Cronin said the project was one of the biggest public private partnerships the government had going and it was providing major public transport infrastructure and a new wave of technology.

“This is the way we have to go,” he said.

“Congratulations to Gauteng province for showing it was both necessary and possible to introduce modern technology into the rail
system in South Africa”.

Property value growing
While he said property values around the Gautrain stations were beginning to soar, this was not evident in the neighbourhood around the Marlboro station.

Clouds of dust raised by cars driving to and from the station engulfed women hanging their dripping washing outside small homes on streets named “Match”, “Midfielder”, and “Player”.

Cronin hoped the Gautrain would change the mindset that public transport was only for the poor and that even the well-heeled—sick of sitting in the traffic—would see there was public transport that was so good everyone could use it.

The safety permit issued on Wednesday is only for the Gautrain’s Sandton to OR Tambo International Airport route and is valid until June 7, 2013.

All rail operators except underground operators in mines and amusement parks had to have operating permits, said Mosenngwa Mofi, chief executive officer of the Railway Service Regulator (RSR), which issues permits.

The Bombela Operating Company had gone through an in-depth, detailed and comprehensive process to prove it had an adequate, integrated safety management system for day-to-day operations, he said.

‘Safe, secure and on track’
It had not been an “easy road”, but the RSR remained positive that its collective efforts with Bombela to ensure safety would “lead to a Gautrain that is safe, secure and on track.”

Bombela Operating Company’s chief executive officer Alain Esteve expressed gratitude to the RSR for its guidance throughout the application process.

The issuing of the permit marked the end of a long period of planning, design and preparation for operation, it also signalled the beginning of a new era in the company’s existence.

“It is a symbol of [the company’s] new commitment to put the safety of our customers and staff as our number one priority,” he said.—Sapa

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