As South Africa looks to build its position on the world stage, transport infrastructure becomes a pertinent issue. For Bombela Concession Company, that means a strong focus on the nation’s rail system, in particular the Gautrain Rapid Rail Project.
The Bombela website describes the significance of this project: “Public transport in South Africa entered a new era with the successful opening of Phase 1 of the Gautrain rapid rail project on the 8th of June 2010. The opening came 3 weeks ahead of schedule and just 44 months after the first sod was turned. The Gautrain project consists of an integrated rapid rail and bus network linking the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria with the O.R.Tambo International Airport.
“On the 2nd of August 2011 the route linking Rosebank in Johannesburg and Hatfield Station in Pretoria was opened. The final leg of the system between Rosebank and Johannesburg Park Station opened on 07 June 2012 bringing the total number of stations in operation to 10 along an 80 kilometre route alignment.”
In total, the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link system covers approximately 150 kilometres of dual track and includes 10 stations currently, and providing 2 services operating between Johannesburg and Pretoria and Sandton and OR Tambo International Airport. Passenger figures have risen to an average week day number between 45,000 and 50,000 people.
Of course the project was carried out on a massive scale, causing disruption but creating a vast number of jobs – which was always the intention. The Gautrain Rapid Rail Link is a Public Private Partnership which is owned by Gauteng Provincial Government, with Bombela Concession Company (Bombela) holding the 20-year Concession to design, build, part-finance and operate the system.
Bombela manages the client (Gauteng Provincial Government) interface and provides an integrated solutions approach for this PPP project, led by an experienced executive team, promising passengers a state-of-the- art transport system.
But how has the project been greeted by the Gauteng public? Back in October 2013, Errol Braithwaite, Technical & Marketing Executive for Bombela Concession Company, gave his verdict on how business has picked up, on CNBC Africa’s Power Lunch.
“We are absolutely delighted with the take up of ridership on the trains. Year on year we are growing train ridership at about 60 per cent, bus ridership at over 100 per cent per annum. So, you know we are now beginning to face, in fact, the welcome problem of capacity constraints, particularly during the morning peaks.
“What we find is, those folk who know the Gauteng area, the traffic on the freeway in the mornings coming southwards from Pretoria towards Johannesburg is really busy. The same with the trains. It is literally standing on one spot and of course vice versa in the afternoon.
“To try and combat that, we are trying to shift some folk into the off-peak period and so we have introduced off peak discounts, as you have in many places in the world. We have inserted additional train capacity, on the North as well as the East/West line.
“In fact, we have got train capacity running on the system now that we only anticipated to have in the year 2026. So, it shows you that the take up has been dramatically ahead of what the projections were back in 2005/2006.”
But the Gautrain Rapid Rail project has had a deeper impact on the local economy, as Braithwaite outlined in an article for Business Day last July:
“There are few infrastructure projects in South Africa that compare to the Gautrain in size and technical complexity.
“The value of property development projects that have been approved in the vicinity of the Gautrain’s Sandton station alone exceeds the capital cost of the entire Gautrain system.
“To date, the system has transported 38 million train passengers and about 11 million bus passengers. Its trains have completed nearly 1.2 billion kilometres (the equivalent of almost 30,000 trips around the world) and consistently achieved train punctuality approaching 99 per cent.
“Since its inception, only 2 passenger-related contact crimes have been reported in the system. Statistically, this makes the Gautrain one of the safest public spaces in South Africa.
“A recent independent survey conducted by Catalyst Research has indicated that passengers rate the Gautrain’s punctuality, value for money, safety and security and cleanliness above 90 per cent.
“In short, the Gautrain is probably the best example in the past 30 years in South Africa of how the public sector conceived a development vision, the private sector invested in it and constructed it and is now being held accountable to operate it efficiently.”
Of course the success of the Gautrain network has put strains on its capacity. These will in the future need to be addressed – and to some extent already have been.
Braithwaites’ article last year indicated that he remained hugely optimistic for the future:
“The continued growth of the Gautrain is unquestionably in the interests of the province.
“There is a desire to extend the Gautrain network to bring the transport and development benefits of the train to other locations. The proposed rail network will ultimately consist of a high-speed rail link between Durban and Johannesburg and rapid rail links to Westgate, Boksburg, Naledi in Soweto and Mamelodi in Pretoria, and a link to Randburg.”