S.Africa to open high-speed rail link Tuesday

28th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

South Africa's first high-speed train will on Tuesday begin taking passengers between economic hub Johannesburg and capital city Pretoria, officials said Thursday.

The Gautrain -- Africa's only high-speed train -- was originally scheduled to launch its Pretoria link on June 28, but the opening was delayed by water seeping into a tunnel along its southernmost branch.

Officials said Thursday they had received regulatory clearance to begin operating the line linking the posh northern Johannesburg neighbourhoods of Rosebank and Sandton to Pretoria.

"From August 2, 2011, train services will operate daily between approximately 5:30 am and 8:30 pm, including weekends," said construction company Bombela and the government of Gauteng province in a statement.

Officials said they would open the train's last remaining leg -- a link to downtown Johannesburg -- once the tunnel leakage had been resolved.

The company and the province had been locked in a dispute over who was responsible for paying the engineering bills to fix the problem, but Thursday's statement said they had agreed the extra cost "will not be for the account of (the) province."

Gautrain's first leg, a link between Johannesburg and OR Tambo International Airport, opened last year on June 8, three days before the city hosted the opening match of the 2010 World Cup.

The train, a landmark initiative in a country with chronically underdeveloped public transport, will be supported by a network of feeder buses serving most of its 10 stations.

Gautrain can travel at speeds of 160 kilometres (100 miles) an hour, enabling commuters to make the trip from Sandton to Pretoria in 27 minutes.

The same trip takes about 45 minutes by car with normal traffic, and can take two hours or more during rush hour.

Local officials expect more than 100,000 passengers a day, mainly car commuters wanting to escape the region's notorious traffic.

The Bombela consortium includes French transport giant BTP Bouygues and Canadian firm Bombardier, the world's leading rail company. French public transport operator RATP Dev has been granted a 15-year operating license for the project.

© 2011 AFP

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