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, said DoT deputy director-general Lanfranc Situma on Wednesday.
“We have also established an investor unit in the DoT to look at marketing these public-private partnership (PPP) projects.”
Situma spoke to Engineering News Online on the sidelines of a Johannesburg conference on 'Very High Speed Trains: The Possibilities for South Africa', hosted by French business development agency UbiFrance South Africa.
He noted that discussions on all four projects — Pretoria to Moloto, Johannesburg to Durban, Johannesburg to Polokwane and Johannesburg to Cape Town — would take place on a country-by-country basis, as Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele noted earlier this year.
The priority for the South African government was to develop the Moloto project, owing to the high number of road deaths along this corridor, added 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 noted that the Moloto rail project had already been registered as a PPP project within government, and approved by Cabinet.
The estimated cost of the 125 km project was R15-billion, “discounted over 40 years” of use.
Government was currently seeking funds to get the project off the ground, said Situma.
As for the Johannesburg to Durban project, he said it would 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,” he told the Johannesburg rail conference.
“We cannot justify the costs of such a train carrying passengers alone between these cities.”
He added that freight in this context meant container freight, and not heavy haulage such as iron-ore or coal, which was less time-sensitive.
Situma also emphasised that high-speed rail in Africa did 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.”
MOROCCAN FAST TRAIN ON ITS WAY
Africa was 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 included the Inexia group.
Speaking at the Johannesburg rail conference, the company’s international department director Jean-Christophe Rouja said the 195 km, double-track project would link the cities of Kenitra and Tanger. Passengers could then make use of the existing rail system to travel on to Casablanca.
The existing line between Kenitra and Tanger would 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, would be between 300 km/h and 350 km/h.
It was expected that the system would carry around six-million passengers a year, with the travel time between Casablanca and Tanger cut from more than five hours, to two hours, 10 minutes.
The cost of developing the system was around R20-billion, Rouja told Engineering News Online. He said this was less expensive than the 80 km, 160 km/h, R25-billion-plus local Gautrain system as the South African railway line featured many more stations, and ran through some expensive urban landscape.