Speed train benefits

Posted On Thursday, 17 January 2002 03:01 Published by
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Link is expected to reduce traffic, especially on the Ben Schoeman highway

Link is expected to reduce traffic, especially on the Ben Schoeman highway

THE planned R7bn rapid rail link between Johannesburg and Pretoria promises to deliver a host of benefits for Gauteng, including reduced congestion on roads, economic growth and job creation. But many challenges must first be overcome before these can be realised, not least being expropriating large tracts of land and uprooting scores of residents.

The project is also set to cost the provincial government a significant amount of money up front to build the railway line and stations. While the running costs will be borne largely by the private sector operator, Gauteng is giving a 'ridership guarantee' to the winning investor.

This means that if passenger numbers fall substantially below the 60000 daily users expected, the Gauteng government will have to pay the operator anything up to R70m a year. If, however, the numbers rise sharply above projections, the operator will pay the province.

The scheme, which also links Johannesburg International Airport to the city centre, is moving ahead swiftly. An environmental impact assessment study was started this week and is being undertaken by Bohlweki Environmental, an independent environmental consultancy. A team of scientists will be studying the impact of the project on air quality, noise, land-use and town planning, traffic and how animal life will be affected.

Jeremy Boswell, MD of Bohlweki Environmental, says the aim is to submit the study to the authorities by August. It will have two components an environmental assessment and a public participation phase.

However, because a large portion of the rail link between Johannesburg's city centre and Sandton will be built underground, it was unlikely to affect houses 'en masse'.

The Gauteng government has set aside an estimated R700m for the expropriation exercise, leaving some industry observers sceptical about whether they will be properly recompensed. This is particularly relevant for landowners in the Midrand and Centurion areas where the train is set travel above ground.

These issues will be dealt with at the public participation meetings that are due to be held in Johannesburg and Pretoria towards the end of this month.

The Gautrain project which has been dubbed the Shilowa Express after its champion, Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa hopes to compete with the private car, given congestion on the Ben Schoeman Highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. Its promotional brochure promises 'distinctive modern trains offering levels of service and comfort never before seen on public transport in SA'.

This may be tricky, given how attached many South Africans are to their cars.

As a result, the provincial government will take a 'carrot and stick' approach to enticing people onto the train. The carrot will be a safe, efficient and affordable rail service while the stick will be significantly higher charges for using cars and parking in the city.

The trains will cover the 57km between Johannesburg and Pretoria in fewer than 35 minutes at speeds of 160km/h or faster. They will operate about 18 hours a day. From Sandton to Johannesburg International Airport will take about 15 minutes.

Jack van der Merwe, head of the Gauteng transport department, says the project has several objectives, key being job creation and provincial economic growth. Traffic volumes in Gauteng are growing at about 7% a year compared with about 3% in the rest of SA.

Gauteng records about 6-million passenger trips a day in the total transport chain. Of this, the route between Pretoria and Johannesburg accounts for about 250000 passenger trips each day.

At a cost of R17 to R20 for a one-way trip, the train project aims to be affordable for most people, but given the routing of the network it is likely to appeal largely to business people, tourists and commercially active people who commute.

Studies undertaken in the runup to the project being approved indicated potential ridership of 12400 trips at peak times and a total of 64000 passengers a day, above the international norm for the introduction of a rail service. An expected annual growth of 5,3% will result in more than 100000 passengers a day by 2016, according to the studies.

Provincial government officials say the Gautrain link will not stand alone but be part of a holistic transport system in Gauteng.

Publisher: Business Day
Source: Business Day

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