Even if the next phase of the Gautrain rail system were to get the green light from National Treasury today, it would take three to four years before construction could start on the project, says Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) CEO William Dachs.
“This is a very ambitious, long-term plan,” he notes. “This is why we need to move on this, because we have such long lead times. This is a massive build programme that will take 20 and 30 years.”
The five-phase plan to add 150 km to the current 80-km Gautrain rail network will see the system extend to Soweto, Randburg, Roodepoort, Irene, Pretoria-east, Mamelodi, Boksburg, Benoni and Lanseria.
The first phase is the extension to Randburg and Little Falls.
“We don’t want to duplicate the existing rail network, but compliment and extend it,” says Dachs.
He adds that it is important for global city regions to remain competitive.
“There has never been a city with a poor public transport network that has been a competitive city.
“I’m afraid, and everyone in the province is afraid, that if we do not extend the rail system in our province we are going to lose our competitive edge, and that would be fatal. This is a critical discussion we are having right now.”
The plans for the extension of the Gautrain system were submitted to National Treasury for approval in 2017 already.
“This is not Treasury’s fault,” says Dachs. “This is a huge and complex project.”
He says National Treasury has been engaging with the GMA on a number of issues, the most recent being on how to make the Gautrain accessible to more people, without compromising on its financial sustainability, as well as on how to find funding for the extension programme.
“This can’t be 100% government funded. There has to be some private sector investment in here,” says Dachs.
“We have answered Treasury’s questions. As we are speaking we are finishing the final study. It has been a good, robust engagement.”
Dachs says funding mechanisms discussed with National Treasury include fuel taxes, vehicle licence fees, fuel levies, congestion charging, as well as developer charges, as property developers have seen a significant increase in the value of properties located around Gautrain stations.
Car users are not currently paying their fair share in terms of taxes, and the failure of the e-toll system has perpetuated that problem, he adds.
Dachs says there is a strong willingness from the private sector to invest in new stations, which would then also be retail and commercial nodes, and not just the standalone, single-purpose stations as is the case in the current Gautrain system.
“We are looking at a blend of national, provincial and private funding, as well as from people who will use the train.”