With the Soccer World Cup only 18 months away, Gautengers are wondering whether the fabled Gautrain will be ready, and will it be accessible and safe. Well, I have delved into the various sources and can now give you the following factsâ€¦.
The Gautrain Rapid Rail Link is a state-of-the-art rapid rail network that comprises two main links. One will connect Tshwane (Pretoria) and Johannesburg, and another will link OR Tambo International Airport and Sandton. Apart from the three anchor stations on these two links, seven other stations will be linked by approximately 80 kilometres of rail along the proposed routes. (Picture: The control room of the TBM, where all operations are monitored.)
The three anchor stations will be located at: OR Tambo International Airport; Tshwane (Pretoria Station); and Johannesburg (Park Station precinct).
The seven other stations will be located at: Rosebank (CBD); Sandton (CBD); Marlboro (Marlborough Drive/N3 interchange); Midrand (next to Grand Central Airport); Centurion (CBD); Hatfield (Station); and Rhodesfield (Kempton Park).
180 kilometres per hour
This modern train system is claimed to offer international standards of public transport with high levels of safety, reliability, predictability and comfort. Travelling at maximum speeds of 160 to 180 kilometres per hour, it will reach Tshwane from Johannesburg in less than 40 minutes.
The minimum frequency between Johannesburg and Tshwane will initially be six trains per hour per direction, and it will operate approximately 18 hours per day. Commencing at 05h30 and the last trains planned to leave the four terminal stations at 20h30.
For the first three years of operation, train frequencies during the three-hour morning and afternoon business day peaks will be 12 minutes, increasing to 10 minutes thereafter (6 trains per hour, per direction).
For the rest of the day, train frequencies are planned to be 20 minutes for the first year, increasing to 18 minutes from the eighth year and eventually becoming 12 minutes from the eleventh year onwards. Weekend and public holiday services will be at 30-minute frequencies generally, with the exception of the airport link where they will increase to 20 minute frequencies from the ninth year onwards.
This public transport service will include dedicated, exclusive bus services to transport passengers to and from stations. No-one was able to give me answers as to whether this service would be wheelchair accessible before going to print. We will have to update this in a future article.
Besides the commuter service, air passengers will have a dedicated service between OR Tambo International Airport and Sandton. This purpose-designed service brings Gauteng in line with global practice which links cities by rail to international airports. Designed with facilities suited to their specific needs, airport passengers will be able to check-in their luggage at Sandton station – this will be an interesting scenario with airport baggage handling in the state that it is. But that is fodder for a future column! The trip between the airport and Sandton station will take less than 15 minutes. (Picture: The TBM in place, ready to start drilling.)
Safety and security
Safety and security of Gautrain passengers are of utmost importance. The safety and security measures are extended to the link’s other facilities, such as the station precinct and vehicle parking areas. All the stations will have accessible parking, ticket offices and ticket vending machines and public toilets in the paid area. For customers without tickets, the operator’s staff will escort them to these loos. We have been assured that the Operator’s staff will be clearly visible at all stations.
Access to stations and trains will be controlled via a tight security monitoring system. Only ticket holders have access to platforms and closed circuit television systems will constantly monitor suspicious activities. Visible security officers will further patrol the stations.
Commuters can look forward to a luxury travel experience that will compare to the best in the world. Gautrain’s 24 four-car train sets will ride on air suspension to ensure smooth travel at 160 kilometres per hour. Each air-conditioned four-car train set can comfortably carry up to 321 seated passengers. Unfortunately, only TWO wheelchair places per 4-car train have been made available. In my opinion, two out of 321 is not enough!!
While travelling, information will be constantly displayed on LED panels in each car giving the destination and locality of the next station. Train drivers will be able to make announcements on the public address systems. On platforms, tactile slabs have been made for sight impaired passengers. Harnessed guide dogs will be allowed on the trains.
The front two cars on each train between Sandton and OR Tambo International Airport will be designated Airport cars and will feature interior luggage racks near the doors. Their interior will also be more spacious, achieved by fewer seats per car, to allow easy movement for people with luggage. The doors of airport cars will remain locked at intermediate stations to prevent ordinary commuters using the airport cars. (I have been unable to ascertain whether the wheelchair places will be situated within this section.) The spokespeople are pleasant on the phone, but slow in getting back to me with specific answers. I believe that it is just too early in the rollout schedule to get these finer details confirmed. (Picture: The Tunnel Boring Machine being lowered at the Rosebank Station.)
At present, projected costs will be in line with current taxi or road costs, but these will have to be confirmed. And of course, this super upmarket electric train system will be running on our wonderful ESKOM power. So it will be interesting to see what will happen to schedules affected by the rolling blackouts we’ve been promised for the next 10 years!
All in all, I’m certainly looking forward to trying the system out once it is up and running, especially for the airport route! Of course, travellers will still have to use a vehicle to get to and from stations, but hopefully the local government can get the taxi services sorted out so that there are regular services within these areas, but that’s another article for another issue! In the meantime, safe travels to you all.