Gautrain bosses bombarded with complaints and questions on proposed route expansion

The Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) was bombarded with complaints and questions during a stakeholder engagement session this week on the proposed Phase 1 extension of the rapid rail network.

However, GMA CEO William Dachs argued that Gauteng’s booming population is set to place further strain on all modes of transport, and punted the case for Gautrain and its proposed expansion.

He said Gauteng’s population is forecast to grow to 16.8 million by 2025 and to 19.1 million in 2037 – that’s from around 13 million back in 2014. The morning peak hour ‘person trips’ for all Gauteng transport modes is forecast to increase to 2.7 million in 2025 and 3.2 million by 2037, from two million in 2014.

“If we try to move [all these] people on the road, it won’t work. You can’t take an additional 1.2 million peak trips in Gauteng and put them all on roads,” warned Dachs.

“The problem we have in Gauteng is that our rail network is up to 100 years old. We are in essence building cities and urban form where there is no new rail network to move people to and from work,” he said.

Dachs added that in areas such as the West Rand, which has seen a lot of development, the population density is unserviced by rail.

Read: Public transport can’t be used only by those with no other option – GMA

“This is the heart of the problem. If we look forward 20 years and we are not investing in something other than road transport, our urban form will grind to a halt. We are not for a moment saying that roads must not be built but we are saying they are not going to be enough,” he said.

The Gautrain Phase 1 extension stakeholder engagement was organised by the Gauteng Provincial Legislature’s roads and transport committee.

The session follows the provincial government in May (2022) publishing the determined route for the Phase 1 extension, which is one of five proposed future Gautrain expansion phases.

Dachs said there is a total of 148 km of rail line in the overall proposed expansion plans, with Phase 1 comprising 32km.

Read: Proposed Gautrain route extension moves closer to reality

The proposed Phase 1 expansion will provide a link from Marlboro Station to a new Sandton Station though to Randburg, Cosmo City and south to Little Falls.

It will complement the current existing north-south route from Hatfield in Pretoria to Park Station in Johannesburg and the existing east-west line linking Sandton and Marlboro with OR International Airport.

The host of complaints and questions to Dachs related to, among other things:

  • The high price and unaffordability of tickets, which made the Gautrain unaffordable to low and middle class households.

  • The expropriation of properties and why the huge cost of expropriating properties is not reduced by taking the Gautrain totally underground.

  • The Gautrain is a failed project because it has failed to reduce congestion and is operating at low capacity.

  • How the proposed Gautrain route expansion “talks” to the plans for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa).

Dachs said just over 26 000 passengers were transported on the Gautrain last week but pre-Covid-19 the trains were full and ridership levels hit 60 000 passengers per day.

He stressed that transport systems around the world were hard hit by the impact of the pandemic but the GMA has a plan to address this.

“We are confident that ridership will grow and return to those high levels again. This is not a permanent state,” he said.

Dachs admitted Gautrain fares are a contentious issue but said it costs R4 per kilometre in petrol costs, which is twice the cost of the Gautrain. He said the Gautrain was originally targeted at people who used their cars and to get them out of their cars and reduce congestion.

But Dachs said for many people who do not have cars, the cost of the Gautrain is prohibitively expensive.

He said the GMA believes there should be a differential fare approach, not just for Gautrain but for any public transport system, that picks up either an individual’s characteristics – if they are a student or a pensioner – or where they board and get off on the train or whatever public transport system.

“It’s a solution that we think can be practically implemented and it would have a dramatic impact on the use of public transport in general if you take quality issues aside. This is something we are looking at very seriously,” he added.

Tunnelling costs

Dachs said tunnelling relative to the cost of expropriation is extremely expensive.

Arguing that the cost ratio is relatively simple, he noted that for every rand that is spent putting a rail line on the ground, it costs R10 to put it up in the air on a bridge or a viaduct and R100 to go underground.

Dachs does not believe it will be necessary to put everything underground but when the GMA does the preliminary design, it will see how it can minimise the impact on communities by tunnelling wherever it can and where it is cost effective.

It will also look at the offset in terms of expropriation costs, he said.

Dachs agreed the Gautrain expansion had to be part of an integrated transport plan, and said part of the problem is that during such engagements people are looking at a single intervention in the rapid rail space.

Resuscitating Prasa

“This province probably needs 10 or 20 interventions, of which I would say the number one intervention is resuscitating Prasa,” he said.

“Prasa used to move 650 million people a year. In 2021, Gautrain moved more people than Prasa. That is the extent of the decline.”

“But by the same token, we can’t stop this forward planning process. If we stop and say we are not going to do anything until Prasa comes right, we would be doing a disservice in terms of integrated planning,” Dachs added.

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