Africa News Bulletin

South Africa: Gauteng’s rail network must triple to beat road congestion

Express rail system Gautrain is planning to expand its 80km network to assist in addressing road congestion in Gauteng.
But the province’s rail network length must be tripled over the next 50 years to make a dent in road congestion.
People can also reduce their carbon emissions by choosing rail over cars.
The length of Gauteng’s rail network needs to triple over the next 50 years to address road congestion, says CEO of the Gautrain Management Agency, William Dachs.

Dachs on Tuesday was speaking during a webinar hosted by Arena Holdings on the importance of environmental sustainability in business. Dachs shared the ways Gautrain was addressing environmental and socioeconomic challenges.

Rail presents a solution for “twin-evil” challenges the Gauteng province will face – environmental harm and congestion – he said.

An individual travelling 30km in a car daily produces approximately 2.8kg more carbon dioxide emissions per trip than a commuter using a train, Dachs said.

Similarly, Karin du Chenne, chief growth officer for the Africa & Middle East division of consulting company Kantar, pointed out the difference in emissions produced by trains and cars. According to Du Chenne, trains produce 60 grams of carbon per kilometre, compared to cars which produce 133 grams per kilometre.

Bearing in mind, usually, one person drives a car, but a train can carry many people. Using trains can help the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, she argued.

Dachs said this shows that individual choices can make a “huge difference” in terms of sustainability.

Gautrain’s role in providing sustainable options for consumers to choose is linked to the expansion of its 80km rail network. Currently, there are 10 stations between Johannesburg and Pretoria and between Sandton and OR Tambo. This is a relatively small network linking economic hubs.

Gautrain’s existing rail network is 80km across 10 stations.
Supplied DBSA/Gautrain
Gautrain is planning Phase 1 of expanding the network by 32km, Dachs said.

The network will expand to Soweto with rail between Roodepoort and Jabulani. Expansion is also planned for north-western parts of Gauteng such as Randburg, Cosmo City and Little Falls.

Gautrain will allow for more direct transport for commuters travelling between Soweto and Sandton – a trip which could take between two-and-a-half and three hours per day by car, Dachs said.

There is also scope to expand the network further north to Mamelodi, in Tshwane, as well as the eastern parts of Gauteng.

How soon this happens is dependent on sign-offs by the national government. “These procurement cycles of large infrastructure projects are long,” said Dachs.

The expansion of rail is needed in the province to address congestion on roads, he explained. The existing rail network in the province must triple over the next 50 years to “make a dent,” Dachs said.

As a province, we are going to be facing the twin evils – environmental harm and congestion. That is our reality. We can’t carry on putting more and more people onto roads. It is not sustainable. We need a rail solution.
Dachs added that a rail solution would not solely be dominated by the Gautrain but other players need to participate, including Metrorail. It is going to require an integrated transport and rail solution.

As for addressing the demand for more stations, Dachs sees private-public partnerships playing a key role. For example, the Sandton station is not owned by Gautrain. However, Gautrain owns rights around the station. “It is a privately owned railway station,” he said. This model should be replicated at other places like Randburg or Jabulani, said Dachs.

“For me, the way forward is to look for partnerships in the private sector … as government, we are not good developers. Whereas, the private sector has a powerful, well-resourced property development sector,” he added.

Partnerships also extend to other parts of Gautrain’s offering. There are partnerships with taxi associations to deliver commuting services to the Marlboro station near Sandton. Gautrain offered branding for minibuses and assisted with ticketing, but the taxi associations run the service, Dachs explained. It has been successful and expanded to the Hatfield and Centurion stations too.

This is a win-win – the taxi associations get “good business”, and Gautrain has the benefit of having people transported to their stations, said Dachs. “It is a magic model,” he remarked.

Pricing strategy

When it comes to making the Gautrain more accessible for commuters, Du Chenne suggested subsidies for specified groups like students that need to use it to get to school, as well as for pensioners. Dachs noted the need to ensure disadvantaged groups are not overcharged by the Gautrain. He said there is an awareness that Gautrain has been accused of elitism, although it never set out to be.

The pricing strategy is about being as financially sustainable as possible. Charges to commuters cover the cost of operating the system, said Dachs. There is scope for offering discounts – Gautrain is currently running a 25% discount for students.

A real step forward would be to have discounted pricing based on geographic location – for example, commuters from Park Station, who are generally from lower-income households, could potentially pay lower rates than commuters from Hatfield, who are usually from higher-income households. Dachs said no decisions had been made about this yet. “My sense is that is where we have got to go … that will really help affordability issues and accessibility issues.”

As for more innovation and value-add opportunities, Gautrain has also expanded into non-transport services by piloting driver’s licence renewals near its Midrand station. “We have been inundated with people coming in,” Dachs said.

Customers have ranked the service highly. Dachs pins this to the training the staff – mainly unemployed graduates – to be service-orientated. Gautrain in turn scores by having people use the train to get to stations.

READ original article on The Times

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