The long awaited, multi-billion rand high-speed rail link between Johannesburg and Tshwane opens next week, with expectations that it will take about 20 percent of traffic off the congested highways between South Africa’s legislative and commercial capitals.
Gauteng’s provincial minister for roads and transport, Ismail Vadi, told a press conference in Johannesburg on Thursday that the high-speed train – known as the Gautrain – will be running from Rosebank in Johannesburg to Tshwane from next week.
The short section of the route between Rosebank and Park Station in downtown Johannesburg will, however, only open “at a later date”.
The train will run from Rosebank Station through to Hatfield in Tshwane from Tuesday, 2 August, stopping at eight of the 10 stations along the way. The Gautrain’s feeder buses will also run along this section of the route.
“The independent certifiers for the project, Arup, have confirmed that they will be in a position to issue the operating commencement date certificate for this phase of operations on Monday, 1 August,” Vadi said.
The problem along the Rosebank/Park Station section of track is that water is seeping into the tunnel, causing the delay, but Vadi maintained that the section was “completely safe” and that its continued closure was a “precautionary measure”.
“Although safety had not been compromised, the Gauteng Province and Bombela [the operating company] are concerned about the impact of water ingress, above the agreed upon levels, on the long-term viability and integrity of the infrastructure,” Vadi said.
He apologised for the delay in opening the next phase of the Gautrain. The proposed date of opening is the end of the year.
The Bombela Concession Company will be responsible, at its cost, for re-grouting the tunnel, to ensure that water stops seeping into it. The tunnel runs under The Wilds and Roedean School in Parktown, and the water that feeds the ponds and waterfalls in The Wilds rises from a nearby spring, and is therefore a constant flow of water.
At present some 6-million litres of water is being pumped out of the tunnel into the Sandspruit River, which runs around Gillooly’s Farm, through Modderfontein, and into the Braamfontein Spruit, where it becomes the Jukskei River.
Bombela was required to submit a tunnel works plan for additional engineering works that will be implemented to reduce the seepage of water into the tunnel.
“The delayed opening of the tunnel section between Rosebank Station and Park Station will enable Bombela to address the water ingress problem in the shortest possible time with the least impact on the rest of the system,” Vadi said.
The province will not contribute to the cost of this additional work. The Gautrain has cost R25.2-billion.
Remedial work consists of drilling small diameter holes through the tunnel floor and injecting grout in the surrounding rock. It is hoped that this will reduce the permeability of the rock mass, and thus reduce the amount of water that is fed into the tunnel drains.
“This is an iterative process and it is difficult to predict how long it will take to achieve the desired results; however, it is envisaged that the section between Rosebank and Park stations could be opened by the end of 2011.”
In the meantime, buses will be provided for passengers wishing to travel from Rosebank to Johannesburg’s central business district.
Jerome Govender, the chief executive of Bombela, was not able to confirm what the penalties for the delay would be, but said it would be “very, very small … We are absolutely excited to operate the Gautrain – go and get your gold card,” he said.
All eight stations opened on Friday, and Govender encouraged commuters to go and get their gold travel cards, to avoid the queues on Tuesday.
The Gautrain will run seven days a week between 5.30am and 8.30pm, at 12-minute intervals during peak periods on week days, and at 20-minute intervals during off-peak hours. The trains will run at 30-minute intervals over the weekends. There will be no bus service on weekends and public holidays.
Predictions are that 108 000 passengers will use the Gautrain daily. It is hoped that it will take 20 percent of road traffic off the network of roads between Johannesburg and Pretoria.
The Gautrain between OR Tambo International Airport and Sandton Station opened in June 2010, just in time for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and has proved very popular – predictions of 75 000 commuters a week between Sandton and the airport have been met.