Johannesburg: Gautrain Open in Time for World Cup

320px-Gautrain-in-depot-retouched Bravo to South Africa for opening the first segment of the Gautrain,
linking Johannesburg’s Tombo airport (JHB) to Sandton and Rosebank, in
time for the World Cup.  Sports events continue to be one of the best motivators for getting big infrastructure projects done.

But do you notice one rather basic fact missing from the Guardian’s otherwise thorough article on the subject?  A fact that you’d need to know if you were deciding whether the thing would be useful for a
particular trip, or even whether it was likely to be useful to you in general?  And yet a fact that’s easy for journalists to omit even while discussing top speeds, paint schemes, fare-card systems, air conditioning, and unresolved racial divides?

The BBC coverage nearly misses it too, but makes a passing and incomplete reference to it near the end of their article, well “below the fold.”

Hmm, it doesn’t seem to be anywhere in the hugely detailed Wikipedia article either, unless an HT reader has taken this cue and jumped in there to add it.

Oh, all right.  Remember this?

10 Responses to Johannesburg: Gautrain Open in Time for World Cup

  1. erick June 10, 2010 at 5:11 am #

    Train for the rich by the rich.
    Thats how I call it.
    Already the buses that ferries passengers from and to the station(feeder buses) are always empty. I wonder who thought of introducing these buses in the first place when there are metro buses that operates between areas where Gautrain feeder buses operates.

  2. Chris June 10, 2010 at 5:32 am #

    To be fair to the Guardian and the BBC, very few to none of their readers are actually going to use the thing so frequency isn’t particularly relevant to their stories.
    Now if the Johannesburg Star didn’t mention it that would be a more serious concern.

  3. Danny June 10, 2010 at 6:52 am #

    Never mind the actual usefulness of the train…the fact that it only goes 100mph means that it is already a failure in the eyes of American HSR proponents.

  4. EngineerScotty June 10, 2010 at 10:09 am #

    I don’t think this thing is being peddled as HSR–given that it is only 80km (50 miles) long, and stops every five miles or so, attempting to go much faster than that would be inappropriate. HSR is appropriate for lines that are 1000km long–this is essentially a higher-speed commuter rail.
    And given the socioeconomic conditions that exist in South Africa, I suspect the use of separate feeder busses, apart from the city’s public transport, was done intentionally–so that tourists and wealthy citizens who use this line wouldn’t have to mingle on the bus with the poor (and black). Wouldn’t be the first time a city’s public transportation system included features designed to keep the rich and powerful segregated form the poor and downtrodden…

  5. Alon Levy June 10, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    The reactions posted in the news articles suggest that it is in fact marketed as high-speed rail, both to foreign journalists and to locals.
    The way this is used as a tourist/first-class train makes me disappointed in the media coverage of it. It’s very he-said-she-said, even on the Grauniad, which should know better than to engage in such boosterism. There’s little analysis of the type EngineerScotty offers; it’s just presented as “Some critics dislike the train.”

  6. Alan Kandel June 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    This 50-mile-long railroad cost around $24 billion Rand. In U.S. currency, as near as I can tell, that is approximately $4 billion. If this is a somewhat reasonable extrapolation (based on the information at, then the system cost is $80 million per mile. For a train that travels a maximum speed of 100 mph, that seems expensive.
    At $80M per mile, Florida’s 84-mile HSR line would cost $6.72 billion and California’s 800-mile HSR network would cost $64 billion. Estimates are that Florida’s HSR system is going to cost $2.5B while California’s will be $42.6B.
    Is $80 million per mile a more realistic figure?
    Even at that price, it’s interesting the system was funded and got built.

  7. Alton In Big D June 11, 2010 at 4:48 am #

    @Alan Kandel – If you check out Google Maps, the Gautrain route is entirely urban and suburban, so $80 million per mile (presumably even with the economic differences) doesn’t seem unreasonable. The estimates you cite include long stretches of running entirely outside cities, which makes them cheaper.

  8. Alan Kandel June 11, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    @Alton In Big D – Thanks for that explanation. I checked out the Alameda Corridor Project, a 20-mile triple-track freight rail corridor connecting downtown L.A. with the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles (, and its total cost was $2.4B but this low-speed corridor required a 10-mile trench which invariably significantly added to the cost compared to what a comparable at-grade corridor would cost. This breaks down to $120M per mile. By comparison, then, $80M per mile doesn’t seem all that high.

  9. EngineerScotty June 11, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    Eight commments in, and yet nobody has mentioned: How often does the Gautrain run?
    I suspect that for the type of service offered, it probably doesn’t matter as much; while it is unpleasant to be bound to a timetable if you want to go to the bank, it’s much more tolerable for long(er) distance travel. Especially when the only alternative is a perpetually-clogged highway.

  10. anonymouse June 11, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    12 minutes during peaks, 20 minutes off peak, 30 minutes weekends and holidays. It appears that service runs from 5:30 to 20:30, which is a pretty early closing time, but that might be due to some uniquely South African factors.