Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Gauging the Gautrain

I recently received a forwarded email about the Gautrain, the new rapid rail service being built between Pretoria, Johannesburg and the International airport in Kempton Park.

My intention was to post a few pictures and give some detail about the new train service. For many people living in Gauteng, the construction of this service is having a very real impact on them – either affecting the motor ways they travel on, or causing detours and deviations in the central business areas of Johannesburg, Sandton, Rosebank and Pretoria where some of the major stations and subterraneous stations are being built.

Having lived in London and enjoyed the ease and convenience of the Underground service, I can see how this train can benefit the province of Gauteng, and I do hope it will alleviate traffic, as the website predicts.

But then I found one amazing fact, which I never knew before – despite having lived 28 years in South Africa.
South African trains run on a gauge known as “Cape Gauge” which is 3ft 6in wide. (1,065mm) I had always assumed that South Africa operated Standard Gauge (4ft 8¼in – 1,435mm).
Standard gauge is used throughout Europe, and was the original gauge that George Stephenson used when he developed Rocket.
Cape Gauge is used through Southern and Central Africa, as well as Japan and New Zealand, amongst others

I was amazed at this fact, and that the Gautrain is being built on bogeys that are standard gauge – seemingly the first and only train to use this gauge in South Africa.

The Gautrain website indicates that
"the wider gauge [Standard Gauge] is the predominant gauge used world wide and will allow the Gautrain higher speeds at high levels of comfort and safety. It also allows access to modern state of the art technology at the lowest cost"

So if Standard Gauge is faster, more comfortable, safer and cheaper – why have we waited SO long to use it – why are we using Cape Gauge?

I guess, like so many other difficult questions, the answer is simply COST.


Anonymous said...

I actual fact the very 1st railways built starting from Cape Town were indeed built to the Stephenson's standard gauge of 4'8.5" or its metric equivalent of 1435 mm.
However, later extensions from the first sections into the interior were built to narrow gauge for expediency of saving money and quick construction. Cecil Rodes had a lot to with it in order to build the Cape to Cairo route.
There is on Wikipedia a picture of the plinthed 1st S.African locomotive in the councourse of Cape Town station.

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