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Feb 19, 2007

Gautrain stations promise painless public rail experience

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Construction|Africa|Aluminium|Building|Business|Concrete|Design|Efficiency|Flow|Gautrain|Industrial|PROJECT|rail|Safety|Stainless Steel|System|Systems|transport|Waste|Africa|Gautrain|Flow|Service|Steel|Systems|Gautrain|Gautrain|Infrastructure|Waste
Sandton will be one of the anchor stations for the 80-km Gautrain rail project - similar to the Pretoria, Johannesburg and OR Tambo Airport stops.

The station will reach 48 m underground, and will have a capacity of 9 200 passengers an hour - the largest of all the stations.

In case of an emergency, it will be possible to evacuate the station within six minutes.

The design of the Sandton structure, as is also the case for the other nine stations along the route, is such that it will cater for demand until 2040, says Gauteng government Gautrain technical adviser Dr Herman Joubert.

Despite this provision, each station is to be constructed in such a manner that it will be relatively easy to increase capacity should passenger projections prove too conservative.

This could happen by, for instance, building additional parking facilities, or extending the platform to allow for longer train sets.

Initial demand for the operational date of 2010 is estimated at around 100 000 passengers a day.

However, building the Gautrain stations, some of them already under construction, is about much more than mere number crunching.

It is also about aesthethics, says architect Tom Steer from the Gautrain Architects Joint Venture (GAJV), which incorporates Siyakha Architects, Bentel Associates International and TPS Architects.

After all, it is no use speeding from Pretoria to Johannesburg in 38 minutes in South Africa's most luxurious commuter train and arriving at a station that portrays nothing of the ease just left behind.

In fact, it may just be enough to send Gauteng's already public-transport-shy commuters scurrying back to their cars and peak-hour mayhem.

Do not fear, though, promises Steer, the Gautrain stations will be well ahead of any public transport system in the country.

“It will introduce a major paradigm shift in what people think they know about public transport.”

Ten stations
The R26-billion Gautrain system will feature ten stations.

Three of them will be underground, namely Sandton, Rosebank and Park stations. Four stations - Marlboro, Midrand, Pretoria and Hatfield - will be at grade, and three will be elevated. These are Centurion, Rhodesfield and OR Tambo.

Steer says although GAJV consists of various architects, Siyakha's task, as the master architect, is to ensure that all stations have a cohesive look.

“It must be instantly recognisable as a Gautrain station, not only in terms of signage, but also in general feel. These stations may differ in some ways, but there will be a common thread binding them together.”

The general design is based on the African system of path-ways, crossing at a tree, which is then used as a meeting place, a place where indabas are held, explains Steer.

“This idea led us to the concept of the stations being transparent buildings - as if it is the canopy of a tree below which various paths intersect,” says GAJV director Robert Bray.

The closest comparison to the proposed Gautrain stations that currently exists in South Africa is a large airport, adds Steer, with much of the same elements present.

What the stations will look like
Each station will have certain basic neccesities.

It will offer infrastructure for a feeder bus system (also operated by the Gautrain company) to collect and drop off commuters; a concourse; and a covered platform.

Platforms will be straight, and not curved as is the case at many London Underground stations, which has led to the now (in)-famous expression, 'mind the gap', warning commuters to step over the space between platform and train.

This 'gapless' system will ensure that disabled people are able to use the train with greater ease.

All the stations will then also be disabled-friendly in every aspect of its design.

Other bare minimum facilities to be found at stations will be parking facilities, drop-off zones, ticketing machines; public toilets; a transfer corridor for various modes of transport, such as Metrobus; two platforms, 165 m in length and five metres wide; electronic information signage indicating when the next train will arrive; general signage; advertising space; waste bins; benches; a closed-circuit television system; and a public-address system.

“The criterion for parking is similar to that at a shopping centre, referring specifically to the distance people will have to walk from the parking area in order to reach the station,” explains Joubert. “It will not be far.”

Signage will be in Gauteng's four predominant languages, namely Sesotho, Zulu, Afrikaans and English. However, pictograms (such as an arrow indicating the exit) will be used to a great extent, largely obviating the use for written language.

Most interesting to note is that small kiosks selling newspapers, magazines and takeaway coffee or tea - similar to what can be seen within some train systems abroad - are not yet on the menu.

Joubert says a decision on this is pending.

Stations will not offer major retail opportunities, explains Joubert.

Gautrain users will have to look to existing retail developments to get their caffeine fix, or to do their shopping, or they will have to wait for new developments that are bound to sprout up around Gautrain stations.

For example, commuters will enter Sandton station through the Nelson Mandela Square shopping mecca. Rosebank station will be underground right next to The Zone and the Rosebank Mall.

The Midrand station, currently not near to any large development, is likely to see a major shopping centre being built right next to it.

“It's an international trend for developers to build up immense interest in the areas around stations,” says Bombela civil joint venture design manager James Musgrave.

(The Gautrain is a public-private partnership between the Gauteng provincial government and Bombela, a consortium consisting of international partners Bombardier, Bouygues and RATP, and local stakeholder Murray & Roberts, along with black economic-empowerment company Strategic Partners Group.)

Joubert says it has become clear that the metropolitan councils involved in the Gautrain, namely Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni, are anticipating and planning for major developments to happen around the station - as well as the subsequent influx of people.

For example, Johannesburg is considering taking measures to improve pedestrian flow around the stations, allowing for people to walk with ease to and from the system.

This idea of pedestrian comfort is somewhat strange to car-mad South Africa, where commuters often move from driveway to parking garage without stepping onto a sidewalk.

The materials used in the stations will be timeless and durable, adds Bray, ensuring that the buildings do not appear aged and out-of-fashion within five years.

This means generous use of steel, stainless-steel, aluminium, stone and concrete.

An important concept of designing the underground stations has been to introduce as much daylight into the building as possible, even down to platform level, notes WS Atkins (another architect) consultants' representative Stuart Downey.

This means commuters will be able to exit the stations by literally following the light.

Musgrave says the focus at the underground stations is on com-muter comfort and safety, despite being deep underground.

“We'll ensure that people are not disorientated and that it is clear where they should enter and exit.”

An eleventh station?
A land dispute has ensured that an eleventh station may be on the table for the Gautrain system, on the link between the OR Tambo airport and Sandton.

The rapid-rail link is to cross14 km of land which belongs to chemicals giant AECI, but which has been declared in excess to its industrial needs.

While not against the project, the company did object to the fact that the railway line would dissect the land, which has been earmarked for development by its property arm.

However, an agreement, signed in December last year, will now see the province build 11 bridges across the railway line, thereby ensuring integration of what could have been two completely separate land parcels once the project was completed.

In return, AECI will not be compensated for the land on which the Gautrain railway line will be built.

“We are using, as a quid pro quo, the money we would have paid for expropriation of the land to construct these bridges,” says Gautrain Gauteng provincial government project leader Jack van der Merwe.

AECI spokesperson Fulvia Putero explains that the company and the Gauteng province have also agreed that a station at Modderfontein will be more suitable, “when justified in terms of passenger volumes and economic considerations at some time in the future”.

For the time being, though, Bombela, with input from Gauteng province and AECI, has already started technical and economic studies to determine the desirability of constructing the basic infrastructure for a station as part of the Gautrain construction programme.

Cost estimates for this basic infrastructure are part of the feasibility study.

This infrastructure would include piling, foundations and platforms.

Such basic infrastructure would be built at AECI's cost, says Putero.

The feasibility studies are also for AECI's account and are expected to be completed by the end of the first quarter of this year.

The operational station, like the train system, would be operated by Bombela in accordance with itsconcession agreement with the Gauteng government, notes Putero.

If, and when built, the station at Modderfontein would be open to all passengers, she adds.

“There is no intention whatsoever that it should be for the exclusive use of AECI employees.” Land surplus to AECI's operational needs in the vicinity of the proposed station, and elsewhere at Modderfontein, has long been contemplated for alternative use, says Putero.

This could include residential and business developments.

Van der Merwe says putting the basic infrastructure for a station in place at this point, ensures there will be no disruption to the train service when AECI's land development delivers sufficient passenger numbers to justify the Gautrain stopping at Modderfontein.

He adds that it will be possible to add other stations to the system at a later point, as the airport service will rotate between a nonstop service, and one where the Gautrain stops at every station.

Integration efforts
Parlamentarians last year grilled the Gautrain project team on what they said was a lack of integration between what they termed the elitist rapid-rail link and current public transport, such as Metrorail.

This drew designers back to the drawing board, with greater integration between the systems now being proposed.

“On an operational level, we are looking at using a single smart card for the entire Gautrain system - bus feeder system and the train - as well as other transport operators, such as Metrorail,” says Van der Merwe.

Passengers will be able to load money onto this smart card system, ensuring the transformation to a cashless public transport system.

Only smart card carriers will be able to enter Gautrain stations, in the interest of commuter safety.

“We are also working towards correlation between the proposed Gautrain schedule, and existing bus and train schedules, so commuters may move from one mode to the other with the highest efficiency and speed,” says Van der Merwe.

As far as physical integration is concerned, Gautrain's Park station will be 50 m from the Metrorail station, with Pretoria station next door to the Metrorail station.

Commuters will also be able to walk from Gautrain stations to Metrorail stations at Hatfield and Rhodesfield.

“We are looking at building a walkway between the Hartebeesspruit Metro station and Hatfield Gautrain station, across Duncan street. At Rhodesfield, we are seeking additional funding to join the Gautrain station with the Isando Metro station, by building a bridge over or a tunnel underneath the R24 separating the two stations,” says Van der Merwe.

In summary, a catalyst
“The way in which the Gautrain stations will be built and presented to the public will ensure they change their view of public transport as being grimy and unreliable. It's going to ensure a paradigm shift,” explains Steer.

Joubert adds that the entire system will serve as a catalyst not only for public transport in South Africa, in general, but also for urban regeneration in areas surrounding the stations.

“We are going to change the image of public transport. We are going to change people's minds.”
Edited by: Irma Venter
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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