Friday, May 7, 2010

Africa's first high-speed rail line, will launch on June 8

The Gautrain, Africa's first high-speed rail line, will launch on June 8 in South Africa three days before the opening match of the 2010 football World Cup, the developers said Friday. French construction giant Bouygues said the train's first segment, linking OR Tambo International Airport and the posh Johannesburg suburb of Sandton, will open in time for the June 11 kick-off of Africa's first World Cup.

The segment "will be handed over on June 8, three weeks ahead of our original schedule," said Christian Gazaignes, Bouygues' executive director. For 100 rands (13 dollars, 10 euros), World Cup visitors will be able to ride the 15 kilometres from the airport to the Sandton hotel district in less than 15 minutes. In rush-hour traffic, the same trip takes more than an hour by car.

When finished in mid-2011, the 80-kilometre regional express train will link the capital Pretoria with national economic hub Johannesburg, running at speeds of up to 160 kilometres (99 miles) an hour and enabling commuters to make the trip in 42 minutes.

"It's going to give the country a beautiful image of modernity," said Laurence Leblanc, international director of RATP Dev, a subsidiary of French group RATP, the company awarded a 15-year concession to operate the train. The Bombela Consortium, an international group that includes Bouygues, Canadian firm Bombardier and two South African companies, began construction on the project in 2006.

The Gautrain is the first high-speed rail line in Africa. The north African cities of Casablanca, Algiers and Cairo all have metro lines, but none runs as fast or as far as the Gautrain. South African transportation officials say the train will form the backbone of a new public transport network that will help take traffic off the notoriously congested roads of the greater metropolitan area.

To get them to the train, the company plans to roll out a network of shuttle buses serving the population centres around the train stations.

Officials hope the price scheme will help turn South Africans onto public transport, in a country where mass transit systems languished for decades under apartheid policies designed to keep whites and blacks apart. RATP also promises tight security on the trains, using closed-circuit TV cameras, 400 security guards and 50 police officers to convince South Africans to abandon the protective shell of their vehicles.