The proposed extension of the Gautrain rapid rail route has moved a step closer to becoming a reality, with the determined route for phase one of the expansion published in the Gauteng Provincial Gazette.
Gauteng MEC for Public Transport and Roads Infrastructure Jacob Mamabolo said on Wednesday the route determination is “an important milestone” in the province’s rail planning process.
“We are still in the early stages of the process of defining the future rail reserve that will be undertaken in consultation with all interested and affected parties and stakeholders,’’ he said.
Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) CEO William Dachs agreed, adding: “We have spoken about this for so long and now there is something on the map, which is fantastic.”
However, the proposed extension is not without its critics, particularly the Automobile Association (AA) and the Competition Commission.
The current Gautrain network comprises 80km of rail along two route links between Tshwane and Johannesburg, and OR Tambo International Airport and Sandton.
The extension proposes building, in several phases, another 150km of rail and a further 19 stations.
The gazetting of the determined route followed a consultative process whereby all stakeholders, and interested and affected parties, were provided with an opportunity to make submissions about the possible route options.
The route as published:
Begins at the proposed location of a new station at Little Falls in Roodepoort to the east of Hendrik Potgieter Road in Willowbrook;
Runs in a north-easterly direction towards Zandspruit and passes to the west of Jackal Creek Golf Estate;
Then in a south-easterly direction towards Cosmo City and a newly proposed Cosmo City Station;
Continues in a south-easterly direction towards the newly proposed Randburg Station, passing through North Riding, Olivedale, Bryanston and Ferndale before continuing in a south-easterly direction through Randburg, Bordeaux and Hurlingham;
Once it reaches Sandhurst, it changes direction towards the existing Sandton Station where an upgraded station is proposed; and
Thereafter runs in a north-easterly direction through Sandton, Sandown, Marlboro and Alexandra towards the existing Marlboro Station, which will be upgraded to accommodate the new alignment.
The route determination process will be undertaken for each phase of the proposed extensions.
Mamabolo said route determination is the first step in the process of defining a rail reserve for a future railway line in Gauteng.
It establishes a corridor of 200 metres on either side of the centreline of the determined route that becomes part of all spatial planning processes for the local authorities.
This means the MEC must be allowed to comment on all applications that are received by the City of Johannesburg for any land use changes that fall within the determined route, he said.
Dachs said the route determination planning processes and the funding of the proposed project are two completely separate processes.
“Our engagements with National Treasury, the National Transport Department and Infrastructure South Africa on the approvals are ongoing.
“But the great thing is that the White Paper on National Rail Policy [published in March 2022] is very supportive of rapid rail … and puts Gautrain forward as a good example that should be followed around the country.
“So I think we are really getting good policy alignment now,” he said.
Dachs declined to comment on possible timelines for the proposed project, stressing that the process will determine the timelines.
He said the GMA has to move on the planning processes and do a preliminary design.
“We still have to appoint the consultants on that, so that is a tender we will be putting out shortly and that process then unfolds in parallel with the approvals and the funding approvals etc,” he said.
Dachs said a combination of funding sources is envisaged for the proposed project, adding that the white paper for the first time discusses funding sources for such a project.
“It’s asking for a budget allocation, it’s putting the onus on operators to fund their own rolling stock, for example; it’s putting a lot of emphasis on additional revenue sources around value creation around stations.
“It is all the things we have been talking about for two or three years finally in a policy paper.
“We will wait and see what comes out from the National Transport Department and National Treasury in this regard but it’s the kind of stuff we want to be hearing because these things [funds] can’t all come from the fiscus,” he said.
Not the best idea?
The Competition Commission said in February 2019 when it released its preliminary report into its market inquiry into land-based public passenger transport that it believed the Gautrain was a big policy mistake.
It recommended that the Gauteng Provincial Government rather take over Metro Rail and integrate it with the Gautrain to run “a single system that doesn’t separate people according to class”.
The AA in August 2021 called on the Gauteng Provincial Government to reject the proposed route extensions to the Gautrain because they would perpetuate a system that caters for aminority of citizens in the province instead of the mass market.
In a detailed submission on the proposed extensions, the AA also highlighted several factors it believes negate the extension of Gautrain, including the fact that the current demand on the system is low and economic viability cannot be established within reasonable risk parameters.
The AA is also critical of the patronage guarantee – a subsidy to the Bombela Concession Company, which operates the Gautrain, when its total revenue is below a contractually agreed amount.
It said the patronage guarantee is “a disgraceful and outrageous agreement which has cost taxpayers almost R12 billion since 2012 just because not enough people see value in using the Gautrain”.
The AA urged the Gauteng Provincial Government to invest heavily in the creation of a provincial-scale bus system as the most appropriate solution to mass transit in Gauteng.
“To extend the Gautrain services now is economically inappropriate and unacceptable, and the process should be halted immediately,” it said.