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South Africa Launches Africa's First High-Speed Train

  • Scott Bobb

Passengers wait for the new Gautrain, Africa's first high-speed rail line, shortly after its launch in Johannnesburg, 8 June 2010

Passengers wait for the new Gautrain, Africa's first high-speed rail line, shortly after its launch in Johannnesburg, 8 June 2010

Train opens three days before South Africa kicks-off football World Cup

South Africa has launched Africa's first high-speed train in time for the football World Cup. The railway links the city's international airport to its financial district.

Thousands of travelers, railway buffs and commuters gathered before dawn to be the first to ride the continent's first high-speed train.

The first cars of the railway, called the Gautrain, left the financial hub, Sandton, before dawn for the international airport 22 kilometers away.

The technical executive for the Bombela Company that is building the railway, Errol Braithwait, was there, and said officials were delighted with the first day's run.

"The trains started operating on time. They are still operating on time. The buses started operating on time, and they are still operating on time. So we are very pleased about that, indeed," Braithwait said.

He said there had been some problems primarily with the automated ticketing machines, but that there had been no safety or security incidents.

When completed next year, the 80-kilometer-long line will run from Johannesburg's central business district, through Sandton, to the capital, Pretoria, 50 kilometers to the north.

The line will be complemented by a bus-operated feeder system that officials hope will reduce congestion on the roads.

Officials believe the high-speed link will cut travel times to less than one-third of those by car.

The cost of a trip to the airport is $13, about one-third of the cost of a taxi.

The $3-billion project began four years ago. It was delayed by strikes, technical problems and environmental concerns. For several years it has disrupted traffic along some of the city's main roads.

Some passengers were carrying suitcases, but many were there to take part in the historic ride. Braithwait says there was a great deal of excitement.

"The feedback that we have got today has been overwhelmingly positive," said Braithwait. "We have had a few critical comments as well, which we very much appreciate because that does help us iron out some of the bugs in the system."

The train opened three days before South Africa kicks-off the football World Cup, which is being staged for the first time in Africa.

Braithwait says the line was due to be completed later this year, but construction was sped up to provide the country with two continental firsts in one week.

"We are so delighted that we have been able to accelerate the project and actually open the system before the World Cup," Braithwait adds. "This is our little contribution to the greater South Africa and our hosting to [of] the World Cup and we get a great kick out of that."

There are long-range plans to extend the high-speed line to populous Soweto outside Johannesburg and eventually to Cape Town, 1,500 kilometers away.

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