Rapid-rail project largely on schedule, says project leader

25th May 2007 By: Irma Venter - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The R25-billion Gautrain project is within budget and largely on schedule, says Gauteng government Gautrain project leader Jack van der Merwe.

The proposed rapid-rail link between Pretoria, Johannesburg and OR Tambo International Airport is “one or two weeks behind where we thought it would be at this point, but this is nothing serious”.

“It’s an extremely complex pro- ject, and we would be able to determine precisely where we stand by October, when construction work has started on all the sites.”

Construction kicked off in September last year.

Project cost to date is R4,5-bil-lion.

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 eco- nomic-empowerment company Strategic Partners Group.

It is planned that the Sandton to OR Tambo International Airport link, as well as the link between Sandton and Midrand, will be completed and tested in 45 months, which should see it open in time for the 2010 soccer World Cup.

The remaining five stations, inclusive of the links between Sandton and Johannesburg Park station, and Midrand and Hatfield, will be completed and tested in 54 months, which adds up to March 2011.

As far as the project’s socioeco- nomic demands are concerned, Van der Merwe notes that Bombela has, to date, met, or surpassed, the set targets, except in two cases.

One is the provision of work for new black economic-empowerment companies (three years or younger), and the local procurement of construction material.

Van der Merwe views neither of these as serious, as he believes time will solve the problem.

“We measure the success of the socioeconomic targets by the money we pay towards them.

“We are still only at the beginning of the project. As construction work intensifies, so will the procurement of materials and the work going towards new BEEs.”

Van der Merwe expects civil work to peak in 2008.

He does not expect Bombela to experience a shortage of construction material during the construction period, as the consortium has signed fixed contracts for both cement and steel.

“Bombela has identified a possible shortage of materials as one of the project’s most notable risks, which is why they put fixed contracts in place.”

Cement and certain grades of steel have been in short supply in South Africa in recent months, with steep price hikes experienced in both markets.

SKILLS AND STATIONS Bombela has managed to repatriate 35 South African engineers for the Gautrain project, ten of whom are black, says Van der Merwe.

Skills currently in short supply are no longer civil engineering, but mechanical and electrical engi- neers.

Mining company Gold Fields indicated at its last quarterly results that it is one of the local companies shedding skills to the Gautrain project.

“We’re losing people to Gautrain. They are offering very sexy pack-ages, even if only in the short term,” CE Ian Cockerill noted earlier this month.

The Gautrain project has not only attracted the attention of the skilled professionals.

Van der Merwe says the business community’s faith in the project has been outpacing that of the general public.

“There has been an explosion of interest in developing properties around the station.

“The private sector has fully embraced the Gautrain project now that they believe it to be irreversible.”

One of these developments is a proposed 80-storey hotel opposite Sandton station, says Van der Merwe.

The value of this development, should it become reality, could be close to the project costs of the entire Gautrain rail system.