A long-awaited report on the feasibility of expanding Gauteng’s Gautrain network extensively is close to completion. However, more work may be needed on integrating the Gautrain with other forms of transport before there can be general agreement that billions of rands more should be spent on it.
Rapid rail targets car users, and these fall in the income category LSM 6 and above; but the project is supposed to lead to huge direct and indirect benefits for all passengers, regardless of income.
The Gautrain was meant to serve as a backbone for integrated transport networks across the province, something many point out has simply not been achieved.
The feasibility study is looking at a possible 200km of extensions, to add to an existing network of 70km.
The first stage was built at a cost of R32bn – though initially R7bn had been expected to be spent on it. There have been grumblings about the cost and the focus that has been placed on the Gautrain instead of on bus services.
These have improved, but many bus passengers still have to get up at 3am and only arrive home at 8pm.
Trade union federation Cosatu has described Gautrain as "a project for the rich". It says: "It is unacceptable that taxpayers’ money is spent to cater for the comfort of the elite, such as the building and expansion of Gautrain and the construction of bicycle lanes all over the country, particularly where the white elite resides."
Running the Gautrain system is expensive; it gets an operating subsidy of about R60/trip from the state, according to treasury data. Of all subsidised transport, the Gautrain system has the best recovery (percentage of operating expenses covered by fares), namely 57%. This compares with subsidies of R11-R16 for various bus and bus rapid transit systems and fare recovery of between 28% and 44%.
The extensions are proposed to increase coverage across Gauteng and to include areas in and around Soweto, Mamelodi and Cosmo City. Together with the Metrorail improvements being implemented by the Passenger Rail Agency of SA, this should improve the rail network vastly, says Gautrain Management Agency COO William Dachs.
The Gautrain system has led to high demand, already reaching capacity at peak periods that was foreseen only for 2020.
The province is expected to announce in November the name of the preferred bidder for 48 new coaches. Daily passenger trips have increased from about 35,000/day when the system opened in June 2012 to 60,000/day this year.
Dachs says: "This increase has been felt most in the peak periods, and specifically the morning peak periods, at which time passenger movements from north to south mirror the movements on the freeways in Gauteng.
"The Gautrain has accommodated the growth by deploying more eight-car train sets, to the extent that these make up two-thirds of the trains that run in the morning peak between Pretoria and Johannesburg. For this the train sets that were planned to be deployed after 2020 have been used. The next step is to procure more rolling stock and allow for the continued growth of passenger demand.
"The feasibility study was conducted on rapid rail extensions in Gauteng and was based on the 25-year Integrated Transport Master Plan for Gauteng, where rail is targeted to become the backbone of public transport networks in the province.
"The rationale for rail network extensions is that, unless the growth of private car use stops, Gauteng’s road network will clog up to the extent that, by 2037, 40% of all car trips in peak hours will be at speeds below 20km/hr."
The agency, which conducted economic impact assessments, says the benefits of the Gautrain are felt in terms of economic growth and job creation.
A 2015 KPMG economic assessment notes that, besides the direct benefits, Gautrain gave GDP a R46bn boost through property development around the Gautrain system. Altogether 245,000 jobs were created as a result of this. R10bn in rental property developed in close proximity to Gautrain stations and residential property value grew 1%-3% faster.
Says Dachs: "The feasibility study has been completed and is under independent review prior to being submitted to the MEC for roads & transport at the end of October."