Gautrain is an 80-kilometre mass rapid transit railway system under construction in Gauteng Province, South Africa that will ultimately link Johannesburg, Pretoria, and OR Tambo International Airport. It is hoped that this railway will relieve the traffic congestion in the Johannesburg – Pretoria traffic corridor as well as offer commuters a viable alternative to road transport, as Johannesburg has a limited public transport infrastructure.
The Gauteng Department of Transport obtained environmental authorization and conducted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for this purpose. The necessary authorization was granted on 25 April 2004. On 7 Dec 2005 the cabinet of the South African government gave the go-ahead for the project, expected to cost more than 24 billion Rand.
In February 2006, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel announced the allocation of R7.1bn from the National Fiscus for Gautrain. On 16 February 2006, Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa announced that the Gauteng Province reached commercial close with the Bombela Consortium, the preferred bidder and that negotiations to reach financial close commenced.
Although construction only started on 28 September 2006, investors, developers, small businesses and entrepreneurs are already rushing to start new ventures such as office blocks, shopping malls, entertainment and residential developments along Gautrain’s network. The demand for land as well as property prices in these areas increased dramatically.
Lightstone, and independent risk assessment company, has analyzed residential transactions and repeat sales price inflation of properties within 2km to 3km of each station, and compared this with the overall price inflation in Gauteng, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Interestingly, the proportion of all property transactions in Gauteng involving properties within 2km of the station has grown from 3.8% to 6.0% from 2000 to 2007, while activity in areas between 2km and 3km from the stations has remained relatively constant between 4.0% and 5.0% over that same period.
Future projections for business transactions and access to new markets for products, goods and services will be R6 billion as a result of the Gautrain network. Sustainability is key to Gautrain’s success. City rejuvenation is another achievement.
It is estimated that Gautrain will create 93 000 direct, indirect and induced jobs during construction. More than 3 000 jobs per year will be created during operation.
Gautrain further achieves important objectives described in Gauteng’s Growth and Development Strategy. It includes the requirements for Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment in terms of broadening ownership and control; skills transfer and preferential procurement. Emphasis is also placed on the empowerment of women, youth and people living with disabilities.
Construction of the rail system will be undertaken by Bombela Consortium who have been awarded the contract. Bombela Consortium is a partnership between Bombardier Transportation, Bouygues Travaux Publics, Murray & Roberts, the Strategic Partners Group and RATP Développement. It is 50 percent owned by its international partners and 50 percent by Murray & Roberts and the Strategic Partners Group, the consortium's black economic empowerment component. Initial works for the Gautrain commenced in May 2006 and construction commenced after the signing of the Concession Agreement between the Gauteng Provincial Government and the Bombela Concession Company on 28 September 2006.
The project is being constructed simultaneously in two phases. The first phase involves the section between OR Tambo International Airport, Sandton and Midrand and the second phase involves the remainder of the rail network. The construction of the first phase is scheduled to take 45 months, and the construction of the second phase is scheduled to take 54 months, with completion of the two sections in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
The agreement provides for a R150 million incentive for the Gautrain to open in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
A Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) was designed in Germany to specifically cope with complex underground conditions. Herrenknecht engineers custom built a mixed face Earth Pressure Balance Shield TBM for Gautrain. It will be the first such machine to be used in South Africa. The TBM, named Imbokodo, installs pre-cast concrete tunnel lining segments behind it as it moves forward. It leaves behind a watertight and smooth lining to the 6.8 m diameter tunnel. A TBM is an environmentally sound method of tunnelling, especially in built-up areas.
Although increased flexibility can be obtained by keeping the system inter operable with the South African Rail Commuter Corporation's railway system, a strong case exist for keeping Gautrain separate from the existing network. According to the Gautrain planning and implementation study an inter operable network may impact service delivery, increase the operating cost and tarnish Gautrain's image. Gautrain's rolling stock will only be used on the new tracks it does not make sense to run the old, low performance rolling stock on the new network. An inter operable network will also increase safety requirements as existing steam and diesel trains would be able to access the new network and cause accidents.
Traveling at a speed of 160 kilometers per hour, Gautrain will only take 40 minutes to travel between Johannesburg and Pretoria. From Sandton to the OR Tambo International Airport it will only take 10 to 20 minutes. Commuters on this route can check in their luggage at the Sandton Station before arriving at OR Tambo International Airport.
At the moment, there are merely guidelines of the expected ticket prices. The cost for traveling on the Johannesburg/Pretoria route will be between R13.00 and R29.00, depending on distance. The cost of traveling to a station with the Gautrain Bus Link will be between R4.00 and R11.00.
Ten station locations have been identified:
Bombardier Transportation's Electrostar, a model of train common in south-east England, has been selected for the system. Fifteen cars will be manufactured and assembled by Bombardier in Derby, and the remaining trains will be assembled by Union Carriage Works (UCW) Partnership in South Africa from components made in Britain. Gautrain will consist of 24 trains, each made up with four cars linked together: nineteen trains will service the commuter network and five trains will service the airport link; each of these trains will consist of forward rail cars which will be specially adapted for use on the airport link with storage area for luggage and more luxurious seating. On July 8, 2008, the first four-car train set was handed over to the Gauteng Premier, Mbhazima Shilowa, during a handover ceremony in Derby.
The Gauteng provincial government guarantees ridership to the concessionaire who must build and operate the train. If predicted ridership levels do not materialize, taxpayers will by agreement pay an unspecified annual compensation to the concessionaire.
Taxpayers will no doubt follow with interest measures the government will take in order to guarantee a certain minimum ridership volume. On the other hand, it provides indication that the guarantee may not be honored, in which case it expects to enter into an agreement with taxpayers to underpin any financial shortfall.
In November 2005 communities in Johannesburg (Dunkeld community) decided to contest the alignment in their suburb. Legal action launched by the Muckleneuk / Lukasrand Property Owners and Residents Association (MLPORA) in 2004 (Case No. 28192/04), together with an urgent application launched by MLPORA in 2006, goes before the High Court of South Africa on 1 August 2006. MLPORA inter alia opposes the original environmental authorisation granted and the legality of the procedures being followed to approve variant alignments proposed by Bombela. In Pretoria the Gautrain skirts the inner city and cuts through the city's second oldest suburb (Muckleneuk) and high density residential areas and the middle of the city's educational precinct on its way to Hatfield. The alignment as proposed will result in the prevention of the future development of the cities education precinct an urban district with the potential to become a space of national significance. Legal action has also been brought by AECI in January 2006 which has not yet gone before court. Approximately 10% of the route traverses AECI owned land. A dispute with the Centurion Association for a Reasonable Environment (WeCARE) has been settled in favour of WeCARE in March 2006. Further legal challenges are expected.
Critics also question the stated growth and job creation benefits that the project will bring. The EIA for the project determined that it is a poorly performing public sector investment project. In addition the project sponsors have been completely silent on the social benefits that could be gained from alternative public sector investment programmes.
On 29 January 2006 the draft environmental reports on possible variant routes for the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link were released for public comment, without prior warning, and the public were given thirty days to comment on them. The variant alignment proposals are primarily cost-cutting measures proposed by the concessionaire for the project, Bombela. Acceptance of these proposals will lower overall project costs and raise their profits. The released draft EIA reports were compiled by experts without public participation and are being fast tracked through the system by the Gauteng Government. Environmental management plans (EMPs) have already been compiled for these route variants. In law EMPs are meant to mitigate environmental impacts identified in consultation with affected parties. The decision to approve the released EIAs and EMPs vests with the sphere of government that is bringing the project application, namely the Gauteng Government. The process followed raises serious questions regarding the audi alteram principle and the protection of the environmental rights of the public. The thirty-day window is, critics believe, not enough time to make a comprehensive response to the highly technical draft environmental reports.