Johannesburg to Pretoria at High Speed

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On Tuesday 2 August, the second phase of the Gautrain starts running between Rosebank and Hatfield

Several years ago, Gauteng authorities concocted an original project. The aim was to promote public transport, ease up the traffic congestion and, as a by-product, contribute to saving fuel and preserving the environment.

In October 2006, they decreed that the fast lane of the highway connecting Johannesburg and Pretoria, one of the business thoroughfares in the busy province of Gauteng, was to be reserved for buses, taxis, and vehicles with three or more occupants for a whole week.

The result was a traffic congestion of mammoth proportion, because one vital ingredient was missing: the public transport.

Fast forward to August 2011, and a similar project could perhaps work, thanks to the start of the operation of the Gauteng high-speed train between Rosebank in Johannesburg and Hatfield in Pretoria. Travelling at 160 kilometre per hour and taking 38 minutes to make the trip between Johannesburg and Pretoria, the Gautrain may well become the transport of choice for all those that are lucky enough to live somewhere around Hatfield and work somewhere around Rosebank (or vice versa). By comparison, a car ride takes at least one hour, on a good day.

Car owners are the main target audience of the Gautrain. The Rosebank – Hatfield trains will run between 5.30 AM and 8.30 PM, at 12-minute intervals during peak and at 20-minute intervals during off-peak hours. On weekends, the trains will run every 30 minutes. The tickets cost R46 for a single trip, R417 for a seven-day pass and R, 633 for a 35 days pass.  The feeder-busses operate along the stations in the radius of several kilometres and bus tickets cost R6 one way.

The prospect of ditching the car in favour of a train ride will become that more attractive after the fuel prices top the R10 mark, as they will sometime later in August 2011, and after the authorities introduce toll gates that will make even short trips on highways prohibitively expensive.

It is estimated that the trains will convey about one hundred thousand passengers between Johannesburg and Pretoria every day, easing at least 20 percent of traffic off  the highway. That’s 25,000 to 30,000 cars less each day. This stretch of road usually sees about 150,000 vehicles in each direction.

The officials say that in a few years the upgraded transport infrastructure of Gauteng and indeed all major South African cities will radically change the way people commute between home and work. 

In the meantime, the more affluent commuters who do not happen to live or work close to the Gautrain route will have to turn to their cars. The less affluent ones, who make up the bulk of the working population, will have to continue to depend on the chaotic and often unsafe minibus taxis, the informal small-scale buses that operate without timetables or formal stops.

 The Cost of Gautrain

The Gautrain is touted as the answer to Gauteng’s traffic woes. This, the smallest South African province, accounts for about 40 percent of the nations GDP, and traffic jams are harming the business.

The Gautrain’s costs, originally projected at about R25 billion, have gone over R30 billion, with the project still months from completion.

On Tuesday 2 August, one month behind the schedule, the second phase became operational, between Rosebank in Johannesburg and Hatfield in Pretoria. The first phase, between Sandton and OR Tambo International Airport, was opened in June 2010. However, the final leg of the project, from Rosebank to Park Station in Johannesburg CBD, is not expected to open for several months, mostly due to water seepage problems.

Expensive as it is, the Gautrain is only the first step in bestowing a wide and reliable network of public transport to Gauteng, the economic hub of South Africa, and to the rest of the country.


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