Gauteng faces large-scale urbanisa- tion pressure, says Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) CEO Jack van der Merwe.
“Around 547 people arrive in the province every day. At this rate, Gauteng’s population will far exceed 19-million people in 2037. The current population is around 13.5-million people.
“This number means Gauteng will have roughly 8.6-million people that will move between work and home per day by 2037. Add to this school, leisure and business-to-business trips, and there will be 24-million people moving around the province each day. This number equals the number of daily transport trips in London today, and London has a better developed public transport system than Gauteng.”
Van der Merwe says peak-hour trips currently stand at 1.9-million trips a day, with this expected to reach around 3.9-million peak-hour trips a day in 2037.
This expected jump in people movement requires three fundamental transport shifts, he notes, namely from motorised to nonmotorised transport (cycling, walking); from private to public transport; and from road to rail.
It would also require South Africa’s smallest province to densify its city structures, as public transport operates more efficiently across shorter distances and between larger and concentrated population hubs.
“Gauteng Transport MEC Dr Ismail Vadi has overseen the compilation of an Integrated Transport Management Plan for the next 25 years for Gauteng,” says Van der Merwe. “This will see a densifi- cation of land use between the OR Tambo International Airport, Tshwane and Johannesburg triangle.
“This plan also acknowledges that the current Metrorail and Gautrain corridors are not sufficient to provide the province with an efficient commuter rail backbone. Hence, the need to expand the rail network.”
Gautrain, or Not?
Independent studies show Gauteng has seen R49-billion in investments around the current Gautrain infrastructure in the last five years, says Van der Merwe, and that on an initial investment of R27-billion.
“This investment is an important driver to expand the rail network in the province. It also means that any expansion to the Gautrain network could, and should, be seen as an opportunity to further develop the province’s economy, as it remains important to fight poverty and unemployment in South Africa.”
The expansion of the Gautrain project has been in the works for quite a while.
While the project is called the expansion of the Gautrain project, or Gautrain 2, by the public and politicians alike, any new rail system may not necessary be branded as the Gautrain.
A new national rail strategy, proposed to become legislation in 2018/19, may alter the structure of rail governance in South Africa. The National Rail Policy Draft White Paper currently on the drawing board investigates moving the management of Metrorail to municipal level, which may see Gauteng’s two rail systems become a single system. However, only time will tell if this ambition materialises.
Vadi hinted last year that it has become inefficient to have two rail systems in Gauteng.
“We have the Gautrain running on its track and Metrorail running on its track, and the only connection is where we have an intermodal facility. One is a modern system and one is an ageing system. How can we integrate them? What is our position? Can we imagine a single rail entity taking responsibility for rail operations in our province?
“It is no longer sustainable to have two separate systems operating side by side with different management structures, different operations and different passenger information support systems.
“We have to look at the first steps towards integration.”
Seeking Treasury Approval
The Gautrain expansion project has been registered as a public–private partnership with the National Treasury. The feasibility study for the project was completed last year.
The project is currently with the National Treasury, seeking to pass muster in terms of the Public Finance Management Act regarding affordability, risk transfer and value for money.
“We are seeking Treasury Approval One (TA1),” says Van der Merwe.
The expansion project aims to add 150 km of rail network to the existing Gautrain system, incorporating 19 new stations. The current 82 km route has ten stations.
“We have involved all role-players in planning the new system, including the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (the Metrorail operator), the South African National Road Agency Limited, Airports Company of South Africa and all the municipal authorities,” says Van der Merwe.
“What is interesting this time around is that we are under huge pressure on where these stations should be.
“With the development of Gautrain 1, nobody wanted these stations near them and now developers and municipalities are clamouring to have a station near their development nodes.
“We had 32 station positions, which we had to narrow down to 19.”
In discussing the broad outlines of the National Rail Policy Draft White Paper at a conference last year, Department of Transport deputy director-general: rail Jan-David de Villiers noted that a modal preference survey indicated that the Gautrain had become, by far, the most attractive public transport option in Gauteng.
Van der Merwe says a basic rule of the expansion project has been to not duplicate any existing rail network.
“Our aim is to provide additional mobility and complement the Prasa services.”
150 km, 19 Stations
Van der Merwe says the feasibility study for the Gautrain expansion project was developed by tracking traffic patterns in Gauteng, determining where the greatest demand would be for a new rail network.
“According to this model, the greatest need is to alleviate traffic between Randburg and Sandton.”
This means the first link the expansion project proposes should run from Little Falls to Cosmo City to Randburg to Sandton.
A depot to accommodate the rolling stock operating on the new lines is planned for Little Falls.
A Randburg line steaming into Sandton will change the face of this busy station, says Van der Merwe.
The Sandton Station is currently on the corner of West and Rivonia streets, with trains coming in from the north, near Rivonia. Should trains from Randburg also arrive at the station, construction would be required to allow these trains to enter from the south.
“It would all have to be underground, and it would be a very complex station” says Van der Merwe.
The second-most important route to develop, as dictated by traffic volumes, is from Jabulani, in Soweto, to Roodepoort to Little Falls.
Other links to be developed include Mamelodi to Hazeldean to Irene to Samrand; Cosmo City to Fourways to Sunninghill to Olievenhoutbosch to Samrand; Marlboro to Modderfontein to Rhodesfield to OR Tambo International Airport’s new proposed Midfield Terminal; and Rhodesfield to East Rand Mall to Boksburg.
Van der Merwe hopes to secure TA1 on the Gautrain expansion project this year, which would allow the GMA to seek funding for the venture.
“We are aware that government has severe budget constraints, and that this project competes with other priorities. However, we believe the benefits of expanding the Gauteng commuter rail network far outweighs the costs,” notes Van der Merwe.
“We are positive there is appetite from the private sector. We are also convinced the project is a necessity, considering the pressure on Gauteng’s roads.”
Van der Merwe believes the solution to building the multibillion-rand project in a financially constrained environment is to do it bit by bit, section by section.
“We have broken down the project into five logical parts, and we believe we can roll them out one after the other, as government funding becomes available.”
Van der Merwe also believes the GMA and the Gauteng government are well equipped to better predict the budget and uptake of any new Gautrain-type project, as the unknowns have reduced quite dramatically the second time around.
“It is now a brownfield project. It is a known entity – not this unknown, leap of faith, where we don’t know if people will leave their motor vehicles at home and elect to use the Gautrain, for example.”
Van der Merwe says there is no clear timeline yet for the development of the expansion project, noting only that the next six months “would bring more clarity”.
Current Gautrain ridership is around 64 000 people per weekday, with an average of 22 000 people making use of the bus system every weekday.
However, the Gautrain’s peak-time trains are filled to capacity, and, hence, the GMA secured R3.5-billion in funding to secure new rolling stock.
Van der Merwe aims to complete the process to select the winning bidder to supply the new rolling stock – 12 trains of four cars each – by the end of the year.
This project, which will increase the current rolling stock fleet by 50%, while also upgrading the current signalling system, will be able to grow the Gautrain’s daily ridership figures quite significantly.
When considering the added 150 km of railway network planned in the Gautrain expansion project, Van der Merwe believes the system can add 100 000 daily train users once these route extensions have been completed.
Asked if the project will survive a possible political change in leadership in Gauteng, Van der Merwe notes that any political leader will have to support the expansion of the rail system in Gauteng, as “it really is the only solution to ensure the province’s traffic doesn’t grind to a halt”.
“It is important to note that 77% of the Gautrain’s current ridership used to be on the road. That is more than 49 000 fewer cars on Gauteng’s roads each day.”
Current subsidies on the Gautrain system, payable to Bombela Concession Company, as the operator, amount to around R900-million a year.