Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Gautrain revisited...

So where was I before I was so derailed last night with my Gautrain blog?

The Gautrain project is South Africa’s first Rapid Rail project, and will link Pretoria, Johannesburg and the international airport together through Sandton, Rosebank and Marlboro. If you have been to London, this scheme is going to be very similar to such operations as the Heathrow or Gatwick Express trains.

While the project itself is part of Gauteng’s preparation for the 2010 Football World Cup, there is intended to be benefit for the general public, as it will provide a viable alternative form of transportation for people travelling particularly between Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Sandton Station - aerial viewI know my initial tendency always appears to be toward cynicism, but in this instance I do have some concerns which I have not yet found answers for.
You see, whereas the Heathrow or Gatwick Express trains feed directly into major transport systems in the form of the London Overland system, the Underground system, or a spider web of bus services, I am unsure that the Gautrain system will feed into any such system. In fact, until today I was not convinced that it would be used by anyone other than those going to the airport.

Gautrain = Viaduct 13However during a conversation over lunch, the Gautrain came under discussion, and a senior colleague mentioned that he would happily consider using the Gautrain from his home in Pretoria, to the station in Rosebank, as this was a very real alternative to the living hell of the Ben Schoeman highway. But, (and there usually is one) the company would (and very likely will) need to lay on a shuttle service between the office and the station.

Gautrain Viaduct 13And therein is my problem… Once you get to a station, how do you progress further? I cannot see that my colleague would easily don his suit and tie and make use of a taxi. So while I am being cynical, perhaps this represents a very realistic business opportunity for a private bus company to begin supporting a route around each of the stations and creating a transport infrastructure. Whether this is possible, I don’t know. Whether someone has already come up with this plan, I could not say. But I do feel it is a gap in the market looking to be filled.

And then my second concern… Why the bias to the East Rand? Surely a station at Randburg, and perhaps Roodepoort are required? And with Lanseria looking likely to develop into a second international airport to service Johannesburg and the Gauteng province, why not develop a link to that airport at this stage – while there is little development in the area, and a cheaper overland line can be laid, rather than a subterraneous route?

Gautrain - Park Station JohannesburgI am sure that once more the answer is cost, or that the more urgent need was to service the East Rand. I can only hope that the Gautrain project is the start of a regeneration of the provinces transport network, and that over time the branches I mentioned above are added, that a suitably compatible supporting infrastructure of transport is added to increase the reach and utilisation of the service.

The Gautrain is either going to be a catalyst to regional regeneration, or the World’s fastest White Elephant.


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