The results of a feasibility study looking at whether extending the existing 80km Gautrain rail network by an extra 200km is financially viable are due out in two months.
Jack van der Merwe, CEO of the Gautrain Management Agency, said during an interview that he was convinced, looking at the results so far, that the study would give the proposed project the thumbs up.
The first 80km of rail and associated infrastructure cost about R23 billion to build.
Professor Cine van Zyl, however, a transport analyst at Unisa, said anecdotal evidence suggested that the current Gautrain route had spurred on economic development only around the Sandton and Rosebank stations, while areas around the Rhodesfield, Centurion or Midrand stations had not developed as much. Van Zyl said routes, including those to Soweto and Boksburg, might not be as exciting as they looked.
“The major beneficiaries of the system are employers in the Sandton and Rosebank areas and the commuters who now have easier access to jobs in those two hubs. It is highly unlikely that further expansion to Boksburg or Mamelodi would spur development in those areas,” said Van Zyl.
She said that while the Gautrain was subsidised by the taxpayer, expansion would make sense along the current busy routes where commuters had always contributed mightily to the fiscus.
“The same argument would not apply to lower-income commuters, for whom the monetary value in terms of the time saved travelling by a fast train would not be as great.
“At present, the linkages between the other forms of public transport and the Gautrain are, at times, unreliable and not as effective. Usage outside peak hours is quite low and the underground system around Rosebank and Sandton cannot really handle more trains,” said Van Zyl.
“The expansion of the tunnels will be extremely expensive and disruptive to current transport operations and the prospective utility of a direct link from Soweto to Boksburg might not be that exciting.”
Van der Merwe, who worked for the provincial government since 1971 before being transferred to the agency, said the company was excited about the expansion project, which could see trains running to Mamelodi in Pretoria and Naledi in Soweto.
One route being planned would see the Gautrain run from Lanseria in the south of Johannesburg to Cosmo City in the west, before stopping in Randburg and finishing in Sandton.
An extra route planned would see a rail line from the OR Tambo International Airport to Boksburg.
“We are also looking at running the system from underneath the city to different parts,” said Van der Merwe.
Another feasibility study, which has looked at the viability of purchasing 48 coaches, also came out positively last year and has already netted the management agency a R3.5 billion financing agreement with the Development Bank of Southern Africa.
The company has issued a tender for the coaches, which closes at the end of March. A successful bidder is expected to be announced by yearend, once the request for proposals has been completed.
The purchase of the 48 coaches was testament to the Gautrain’s success, said Van der Merwe, as demand has outstripped supply on most routes, leading to the need for new coaches.
“We are looking at running eight-car trains and one more train per hour, and we are looking at increasing parking bays,” said Van der Merwe.
Since the start of construction works on the M1 highway’s double-decker bridge and rehabilitation programme last month, the Gautrain has received up to 300 extra passengers a day to avoid the traffic chaos that will remain with us for the next 18 months.
“We have seen that when there are petrol increases, people consider the train as an alternative. The fuel price increase is the biggest motivation, followed by congestion or e-tolls.
“We’re finding that, with the M1 construction under way, passenger numbers are going up by 200 to 300 a day because of road congestion. Last Monday, we had 62 000 passengers; the previous Friday we had 65 000.
“Once they start with the bridges on the M1, it is going to be even worse and we expect more people to include public transport and the Gautrain as an alternative,” said Van der Merwe.
This is partly why the management agency has constructed 200 more parking bays at its Rhodesfield station and 200 more in Midrand, and has plans to add another 1 400 bays in Centurion and Rosebank.
Since the system’s first trip in 2010, the airport route has remained the most lucrative.
“We are receiving a lot of money from that airport service. But the links between Midrand and Marlboro, and from Marlboro to Sandton, are our heaviest. We thought people would make shorter trips from Hatfield to Centurion, but we are finding that a lot of commuters want to do the full trip – a much longer route than we had anticipated,” said Van der Merwe.
The management agency is also considering trains that will run an hour earlier in the morning and maybe two hours later at night, but this would depend on demand.
“Gauteng will end up with 18.5 million people in the next five years. We have 3 800 people a week coming to live and work in Gauteng from the rest of the country.
“Our outlook on how Gauteng will deal with this is that having an integrated public transport system and rail network has to be the backbone of that system,” said Van der Merwe.