The Department of Transport (DoT) has set up a steering committee, under the leadership of director-general George Mahlalela, to guide the development of its four proposed high-speed rail projects, says DoT deputy director-general Lanfranc Situma.
“We have also established an investor unit in the DoT to look at marketing these public–private partnership (PPP) projects.”
Situma notes that discussions on all four projects – Pretoria to Moloto, Johannesburg to Durban, Johannesburg to Polokwane and Johannesburg to Cape Town – will take place on a country-by-country basis, as Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele noted earlier this year.
The priority for the South African government is to develop the Moloto project, owing to the high number of road deaths along this corridor, adds Situma.
“The ideal would be to take the skills base established within the Gautrain project to the Moloto project, and then on to the Durban project.”
Situma notes that the Moloto rail project has already been registered as a PPP project within government, and approved by Cabinet.The estimated cost of the 125 km project is R15-billion, “discounted over 40 years” of use.
Government is currently seeking funds to get the project off the ground, says Situma.
As for the Johannesburg to Durban project, he says it will only make sense, initially, as a combined freight-passenger line.
“Don’t come and say this can’t be done – it has been done in other parts of the world,” says Situma.
“We cannot justify the costs of such a train carrying passengers only between these cities.” He adds that freight in this context means container freight, and not heavy haulage such as iron-ore or coal, which is less time sensitive.
Situma also emphasises that high-speed rail in Africa does not have to equal the speeds seen in rail systems in Asia.
“When we talk high-speed rail in Africa, I don’t want 431 km/h as in China. We look at simple speeds able to provide affordable access for people and goods. We are not looking for some technology that is very costly to run and maintain.”
Africa is currently witnessing the implementation of a high-speed rail link in Morocco, North Africa, under the auspices of a number of French engineering companies, which include the Inexia group.
The company’s international department director, Jean-Christophe Rouja, says the 195 km double-track project will link the cities of Kenitra and Tangier. Passengers can then make use of the existing rail system to travel on to Casablanca.
The existing line between Kenitra and Tangier will be used for freight.The average speed of the 14 Alstom train sets operating on the high-speed system, to be commissioned in December 2015, will be between 300 km/h and 350 km/h.
It is expected that the system will carry around six-million passengers a year, with the travel time between Casablanca and Tangier cut from more than five hours to two hours, 10 minutes. The cost of developing the system was around R20-billion, says Rouja.
He says this is less expensive than the 80 km, 160 km/h, R25-billion-plus local Gautrain system, as the South African railway line features many more stations, and runs through some expensive urban landscape.