Posted by Adetayo Kuju on Thursday, January 23, 2014 Under: Feature Articles

Hitherto, South Africa’s transport infrastructure (planning, design and construction) was driven by the policies of the apartheid regime with a view to denigrate, isolate, disempowered and disenfranchise the majority black/African communities. One only has to look at the then spatial development plans and land use policies to buttress this point - the vast majority black communities & townships (eg Soshanguve, Soweto & kwamashu etc) were located hundreds of kilometres away from the economic hub - city centre-. Sandwiched between these two were factories and industrial estates. Mass transit trains (Metro Rail) would ferry black people between their homes and factories, with the odd chance of making city trips when permission was granted (circa 1950 Dom pass law)

Fast forward 1994, a new country had emerged, its struggle icon Nelson Mandela was president, its international pariah status had been shed. The realisation now dawns on the Mandela/Mbeki governments: – decades of systemic deprivation of the vast black population would not be easily surpassed or surmounted. Consequently, various economic growth and development programs and policies (eg RDP, GEAR, Asgi SA, JIPSA, BBBEE to mention a few) were devised and implemented with a “measure of success”.  The recent proliferation of services delivery protest mostly within black townships underscores my point regarding “measured success”. Somewhere within these measured successes including an unprecedented economic growth of circa 2006, the Gauteng Province (with by-in from national government) conceived and began construction of the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link project (initially labelled “Shilowa Express” after its former Premier Sam Shilowa) to link the provincial capital of Johannesburg, economic hub of East Rand and national administrative capital of Pretoria

Gauteng Province

A sneak preview into the province reveals that though Gauteng is the smallest of all nine provinces, (covering 1.5% of country land area), its population of approximately 10.5 million represents about a quarter of the nation’s 47 million people. It is also the economic hub of South Africa, contributing 35% (2007) of its GDP and 10% of the entire African continents GDP (GEDA). Economic growth rate as recorded between 2001 & 2007 was estimated at 5.8%. The province is however not without its challenges; from unemployment figures of    22 - 40% (depending on who you talk to), to inadequate provision of basic services to urban slums (informal settlements as they are know), to upgrade of ageing infrastructure (some would say all of which are legacies of the past regime)

Geographically Gauteng Province is situated (on the Highveld circa 1500 masl) in the North / North-East corner of the country and is administered via 3 metropolitan municipalities and 3 district municipalities, chief of which are Johannesburg, Pretoria and East Rand(ie Kempton Park/Germiston/Boksburg axis). You would know that much of Johannesburg’s growth and development is well documented; however the initial growth catalyst was the discovery of gold back in 1886, thus the aptly name ‘Gauteng’ translated from Sotho language as “place of gold”.

Transport Planning

In line with statutory requirements and the added pressure of hosting world cup 2010, the government (national and provincial) had to develop a Transport IDP to address amongst others high traffic congestion particularly on the N1 Highway between Pretoria and Johannesburg - one of the busiest route in the country.  The overriding objective was to create an integrated intermodal transportation system where with a single ticket the collectors services (mini buses - Hiace & Quantum), the main services (mass transit buses) and trunk services (Gautrain & Metro Rail) would inter-phase seamlessly to move people amass between venues and cities. Furthermore, the freight policy looks at resuscitating moribund Transnet railway sidings to offset huge axel loading currently plying the road network, thus elongating road lifespan and reviving local economies where such siding reside.

Gautrain Rapid Rail Link

The Gautrain Rapid Rail Link was integral to the long term plan of ameliorating high traffic queues, reduced carbon emission, increasing productivity as less time spent on peak hour queues, reduced stress levels, elongate road network lifespan etc.  However a rapid rail link is only a viable option if it can offer commuters an alternative to travelling in their cars, to do this, travelling time has to be considerably better than motorist would achieve privately, the magic number was determined to be 40 minutes – trip time between Joburg Pretoria – (Construction World Oct 2010)

Without boring readers with too much technical detail and in for a holistic realisation of what transpired before, we now have a tangible project delivery  essential and vital for what it portends for other African states (Lagos, Nigeria in particular)

The first ingredient necessary for the project’s success was the presences of political will (ie involvement of all 3 spheres of government). The project phases have since gone through 2 to 3 successive government changes in the last 10 odd years at national and provincial level without any hiccups. Additionally being a PPP project with a 15 year BOT, investors confidence is bolstered by a stable & ‘incorruptible’ government, thus guaranteeing access to much needed international funding (as government alone cannot finance such a project ) required for completion – estimated 2010 costing was R30 billion - initially estimated at R3.5 billion back in 2000. Ps: Without disparaging other African states the R30 billion price tag could easily be tripled or quadrupled largely due to high cost of doing business. 

Another vital ingredient necessary for success was the availability of cutting edge engineering, technology and project management expertise. The preferred bidder, Bombela Consortium (Bombardier, Bouygues, Murray &Roberts) was a consortium of French and South African firms. It must be emphasised that design and expertise was sought locally and internationally with a view of developing local expertise for future progress in this area without foreign input.(already a rapid rail link is being muted between Joburg and Durban)

Gautrain features

A quick recap of what designers and engineers had to overcome included but was not limited to the following: a) Gauteng’s rugged landscape went a long way to affecting route determination of the rail link. Choosing a “right” route impacted the geometric design, gradient, alignment, speed & power requirements and ultimately project cost. b) Underlying soil condition ie geotechnical conditions had to be carefully considered particularly because areas of Pretoria are underlain by dolomite and chert. Dolomitic areas as you might know are prone to occurrence of sink hole and deolines.  c) Design and construction of elevated viaduct & bridges; tunnelling for tracks and underground stations, -sometimes smack in the middle of built up areas-; purpose made formwork for viaduct’s precast segment; choice between standard gauge vs South Africa’s cape gauge etc

In numeric terms, the Gautrain incorporates a variety of engineering content:-
80 km of modern-gauge railway
10million m³ of earthworks
15km of tunnelling
10 stations, 3 of which are elevated and 3 underground
10km of viaduct
50 road or rail bridges


“The Nigeria construction market is a sleeping giant, in that its oil wealth combined with poor infrastructure and rapidly urbanising population could make it the fastest growing market in the world between 2010 and 2020.” – report by Oxford Economics and Global Construction  Perspective

There are quite a few lessons to be learnt across the African continent (eg Kinshasa) in general and Nigeria (megacity states such as Lagos or Kano) in particular regarding the referred rail link project:-

• Political stability or lack thereof vs democratic rule and its attendant effect on investment climate and economic opportunities, tied to this is the genuine political will to eradicate suffering and poverty amongst its people
• Better synergies between the different spheres of government, from national to local government could augur well to conceive and implement infrastructure projects.
• Perceived government corruption in the form of bribery & corruption, personal aggrandisement, nepotism, cost of doing business & government bureaucracy, kick backs etc generally frustrates growth and development.
• Transfer of technological skill and expertise – as someone once said there is no point in re-inventing the “wheel”, all we have to do is copy very well-.  Almost all developed nations including “emerged” economies of Asia, South America and Mid-East have integrated transport infrastructure that includes a rapid rail link, largely because of its strategic role and position in those economies.

Generally speaking the scale of Nigeria’s (and Africa) infrastructure need is mind boggling – from telecoms, power, roads and railways, to sanitation and water supply etc  but all of these though required for economic growth will not happen by chance, there has to be a concerted effort by all to turn our fortune around. The ongoing turmoil in the oil rich Niger Delta was in-part due to lack of substantial infrastructure for the 50 odd years oil was discovered in the area.


In 1800, only 3% of the world's population lived in cities, this figure had  risen to 47% by the end of the twentieth century. In 1950, there were 83 cities with populations exceeding one million; by 2010, this number had risen to 479. If the trend continues, the world's urban population shall double every 38 years.

Surveys and projections indicate that all urban growth over the next 25 years will be in developing countries.  Lagos, Nigeria has grown from 300,000 in 1950’s to an estimated 12.5 million (2010) and the Nigerian government estimates that the city will have expanded to 25 million residents by 2015 making it the third largest city in the world, but with less infrastructure than any of the world’s largest cities.

The foregoing suggest we clearly cannot leave our future survival to chance, we all have to seriously give consideration to how we (the majority) want to exist -  in hardship,  in squalor vs opulence, quality and high standard of living,  access to facilities, amenities and infrastructure - It all begins with a good and responsible government in place to drive such strategic infrastructure as the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link. 


RDP –Reconstruction and Development Program
Asgi SA- Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa  
GEAR – Growth Employment and Redistribution (targets 6% GDP growth and 400,000 employment creation
JIPSA- Joint Initiative on Priority Skill Acquisition
BBBEE- Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment  
GEDA-Gauteng Economic Development Agency
PPP- Public Private Partnership
IDP- Integrated Development Plan
BOT- Build Operate and Transfer
masl- meters above sea level

In : Feature Articles 

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