Six months ago – in mid January – I wrote an article on News 24 in which I described how I’d found an alternate means of getting from Joburg to Pretoria and back daily, thus managing to avoid paying e-tolls on the Ben Schoeman highway.
My journey to work now involves a trip on the Gautrain from Rosebank to Pretoria, followed by a brief 12 minute trip on Metrorail from Pretoria station to my place of work. Since January I’ve done the train journeys on average 3 times a week, using the car only when I need to take packages to work or when I have to see clients.
When I wrote the original article, some of you suggested I might be in for a few nasty surprises, particularly with regard to Metrorail and that I may change my mind and go back to using the car. Well, 6 months down the line, as it were, I thought it was time for a bit of feedback.
Let’s start with the Gautrain. For anyone reading this who hasn’t yet used the Gautrain, it is undoubtedly the most first-world land-transport system available in South Africa. It’s fast, quiet, clean and comfortable and, most importantly, it’s on time to the minute. You can genuinely set your watch by its arrival and departure times!
That said, there are a couple of minor niggles. One of these is Gautrain’s apparently illogical use of four-car and eight-car trains. For example, Gautrain’s stated afternoon rush hour times, during which it charges a higher rate, are from approximately 3 30pm to 6pm. Yet about a third of all the Joburg-Pretoria trains that run in both directions in this busy period are four-car trains. This is crazy. I was unlucky enough to catch a four-car rush-hour train a couple of weeks ago – and I wound up standing all the way from Pretoria back to Joburg!
Other small issues……why do the four car trains stop halfway down the platform at Pretoria station, thus forcing latecomers to run the length of a four-car train to catch, and often miss, their train? And while I fully understand Gautrain’s desire to keep their stations and trains clean by refusing to allow food and drink to be sold or consumed on them, why not allow newspaper vendors at stations? The stations are obvious places to buy newspapers.
On to Metrorail – and I guess you get what you pay for! I pay a total of just R12 50 for my two 12 minute daily trips, which is a fraction of what I pay on the Gautrain. But in return I get trains which are old, slow, often late and whose floors, thanks to the hawkers who ply their trade on the trains, are often littered with crisp bags, banana skins and peanut shells.
There have also been the issues of the PA system and announcers at Pretoria station, both of which have been useless, and there's the continuing nightmare of huge crowds waiting on platforms and pushing their way onto trains before anyone can get off.
I’ve addressed all the above issues to both Gautrain and PRASA/Metrorail management – and the responses aren’t what you might expect. Basically, there’s been no response from Gautrain, who seem to think they’re above criticism. But a little surprisingly, I’ve received a couple of rather nice emails from PRASA/Metrorail, who’ve apparently taken my suggestions seriously and appear to have plans to improve their service.
This morning, to my absolute surprise and amazement, there was a new and upgraded PA system in operation at Pretoria station, with a new and much more professional announcer. So kudos to Metrorail…they may have a massive and massively-underfunded system – but they listen and they appear to be trying to make a difference. So I’ll continue using both Gautrain and Metrorail to get to work.
Funnily enough, I actually enjoy the train rides – and anything’s better than paying those thieving rats at Sanral…not to mention the fact that I’m saving 100km’s wear and tear on the car every time I use the trains!