Public Service Review: - Issue 3
The Gautrain project
01 November 2005
The Province of Gauteng in South Africa is constructing a new high-speed rail link, which looks set to bring new prosperity to the region.
The South African Province of Gauteng, traditionally one of the nation's economic heartlands, has undertaken an ambitious rail development scheme designed to stimulate economic growth and establish a passenger rail network to equal any in the world. The Gautrain project comprises two rail links: one between the business districts of Johannesburg and Pretoria, and another between Johannesburg International Airport and Sandton. The trains will travel on the 80km line at speeds of around 160-180km/h, giving a journey time of around 40 minutes between Johannesburg and Pretoria – a major development for the area, making same-day business journeys between the two economic hubs a practical and affordable reality for South Africans. The Gautrain reflects a desire in South Africa to emulate the successful transit systems that operate in established, developed countries in Europe and North America, linking major cities to international airports as a means to make travel into and within the country a reality, which, in turn, makes conducting international business a more convenient and appealing prospect.
The Gautrain could not come at a more important time for the transport sector in South Africa. Congestion between Pretoria and Johannesburg is a near unmanageable problem, with around six million passenger trips in the Gauteng region per day. It is not uncommon for people to set out for work each day at 5.00am to avoid heavy traffic congestion. Other nations have approached this kind of road traffic problem with extensive road building projects, but in South Africa, these present a prohibitively expensive and time consuming solution. Public transport is the proven means to reduce congestion, and Gautrain offers a world class solution to the problem.
Gautrain is being funded through a public private partnership, the terms of which specify that bidders are expected to build, design, transfer and operate the network at a cost of R8bn. The economic impact of the project cannot be understated, with 100,000 jobs to be created for the construction, operation and maintenance of the lines. The Gautrain project ties in with South Africa's successful bid for the 2010 soccer World Cup, and was included in their bid as an example of the nation's commitment to developing its transport infrastructure to accommodate the vast numbers of fans due to attend. With an anticipated influx of 500,000 football tourists, each with a significant potential cash contribution to the nation's economy, it is clear that Gautrain is certain to play a key role in encouraging economic activity in the areas that it touches, with early estimates suggesting that the line will boost the region's GDP by around 0.7-1% when operational.
The commitment displayed by the national and provincial governments in supporting the Gautrain project gives us an idea of the importance of strong leadership and project management to developing nations. Demonstrating a willingness to fund ambitious development projects sends out a positive message – that entrepreneurial activity will be supported by the Government through the provision of the infrastructure necessary to change business ideas into business realities. Furthermore, the adoption of a public-private approach to financing gives a demonstration of the value of this funding model in a new context; PPP has been proven to work in developed nations, and now it can begin to show its value to developing countries. In an era where oil prices are shaping transport policy, rail is playing an ever growing role in providing long distance and urban transport in countries where fluctuations in fuel prices can have a particularly pointed effect. With Gautrain, South Africa is showing the world that public transport networks are the future of mass transit, and that visitors and citizens will enjoy a standard of travel unparalleled in Africa.