Gautrain's Tshwane line opens with 20 000 passengers, survives Centurion blackout

3rd August 2011 By: Irma Venter - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The Gautrain recorded 20 000 passenger trips on the train system, and 3 300 trips on the ancillary bus service for the first day of operations between Tshwane and Johannesburg.

The line between Tshwane and Johannesburg opened on Tuesday, August 2, adding to the Sandton – OR Tambo International Airport link which had been operational since June 2010.

The final stretch of the Gautrain, from Rosebank station to Park station, in Johannesburg’s central business district, was expected to open by the end of the year.

“We are very pleased with the ridership figures. They more than met our expectations. We had a stable system with a good, steady flow of passengers throughout the day,” said Bombela Concession Company CEO Jerome Govender on Wednesday morning.

“This morning we saw a similar take-up. We would like to thank Gautengers for supporting the Gautrain.”

Bombela operates the Gautrain system, and would do so for the next 15 years.

The Gauteng government hoped the Gautrain would carry 108 000 passengers a day by the end of January.

Govender, who on Tuesday kept a close eye on the system from the first train to the last, said Sandton, Hatfield and Centurion stations had the most customers, with the Sandton bus service carrying the most passengers of all the station bus services.

“Centurion station was always a bit of an unknown,” he added. “We didn’t expect the station to be as busy as it was yesterday.”

Govender said Bombela would continue to run a number of eight-car trains during peak periods, instead of the normal four-car trains, to ensure it catered to commuter demand.

He added that the system saw nothing of the congestion punctuating the first phase opening last year, as long queues of passengers waited at ticket vending machines to buy their gold travel cards, for example.

The situation was likely not repeated owing to the fact that all the stations had been open since Friday, enabling commuters to familiarise themselves with the Gautrain environment, and to buy their gold cards ahead of the starting date.

Bombela had also employed 200 stewards to aid passengers, in addition to the customer service and security staff already available at the stations.

“They will help us get through this initial period where we have lots of new customers,” said Govender.

Last year also saw unexpected congestion on weekends as families made a day of travelling on the Gautrain.

To cater for a repeat of this, Bombela would run trains at 20-minute intervals between 09:00 and 17:00 for the next four weekends and on Tuesday’s public holiday, instead of the normal 30-minute intervals, said Govender.

However, despite Bombela’s preparations for the opening of the second phase of the system, Govender noted that it was inevitable that problems would crop up as passengers moved through the system for the first time.

He emphasised that the passenger experience remained pivotal to Bombela’s success, and that commuters should engage with the operating company, stipulating what they believe would add value to their experience.

“We look forward to customers’ feedback. It will help us in delivering an even better service.”

POWER FAILURE

A general power failure on Tuesday in the Centurion area had no effect on Gautrain operations, proving the system’s robustness, said Govender.

The ticket machines and fare gates all ran off uninterruptible power supply systems, with the lifts making use of installed generators. The trains could also operate as normal.

Only the escalators came to a standstill as a result of the widespread power outage.