Gautrain kicks off high-speed Pretoria to Jo'burg route
The Gautrain began operating its new high-speed route between Pretoria and Johannesburg on Tuesday morning, transporting 11 000 commuters between the two cities by midday.
The service between Sandton in Johannesburg and Hatfield station in Pretoria began at 5.30am and by 7am had transported about 2 000 passengers. Around 7 000 had made the trip by 9am, and 11 000 by noon.
“We are not at full capacity by any means yet; we hope to carry up to 100 000 passengers every day,” Jack van der Merwe, the chief executive of the Gautrain Management Agency (GMA), told reporters on Tuesday morning.
A trip between the Sandton and Pretoria stations takes roughly 26 minutes, and the trip from Sandton to the end of the line at Hatfield Station takes 33 minutes. It is hoped that the route will greatly relieve congestion on the N1 between the two cities.
Transport Minister Sibusisu Ndebele said he was expecting congestion on affected routes to decrease by 20%.
“People are going to see when they travel by car that the trains are just gliding by them, while they sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic. They would be foolish not to use it,” he said.
Stops along the way to Hatfield include Marlboro, Midrand, Centurion and Pretoria—with a further link in Rosebank due to open to the public on Friday.
Travelling at up to 160kph, each train consists of eight air-conditioned carriages that can carry as many as 900 passengers in total, offering a smooth journey along the way.
“Sometimes we battle to meet our international counterparts in terms of service standards, but with the Gautrain we have surpassed them—everyone in South Africa and Africa must be proud of this project,” Ndebele added.
A date for the opening of the final leg of the Gautrain system at Park Station in central Johannesburg has yet to be finalised after it emerged that extra engineering work would be required on the route, after water seepage was discovered.
Quick and convenient
Passengers using the service on opening day agreed the Gautrain would likely transform their commute.
“It used to take me up to two hours, some mornings, to get through to classes in Pretoria, now I can sit back and arrive in just over 20 minutes,” University of Pretoria student Matthew Reuben told the Mail & Guardian.
In spite of the convenience and safety of the facility the cost of travelling on the Gautrain remains controversial.
Although far cheaper than trips to OR Tambo airport (and vice versa), which range from R105 to R125 depending on which station one leaves from, a single trip to Hatfield from Sandton will cost R43, with discounts for weekly and monthly ticket holders.
“For everyday South Africans it might be a bit expensive but it will be efficient,” said passenger Praneeta Naidoo.
Focus on commuter transport
The launch of the Gautrain’s Sandton to Hatfield link follows the unveiling of a massive rail infrastructure development program launched by government in April.
The initiative will see over R30-billion spent on the upgrading of infrastructure, signalling systems and rolling stock on Metrorail services in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
Additionally, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) intends spending a further R97-billion on reinvigorating commuter and long distance rail services over the next 18 years, providing new routes and destinations on South Africa’s rail transport grid.
“Government is making steady progress in ensuring that rail becomes the backbone of South Africa’s transport system,” Ndebele said.
Although the Gautrain has been widely hailed as a step towards solving Gauteng’s traffic congestion problems, costs for the project have ballooned during the projects implementation.
Scheduled costs for the project were set at R7-billion in 2002, but this has increased by more than 250%.
The latest cost projections released by the GMA in their 19th quarterly progress report pegged costs at R30.462-billion.