The race was on on Tuesday morning. Gautrain opened its new section of track, officially linking Joburg and Pretoria by a high-speed train that is hoped to ease traffic on the highway during peak hours.
But is it a speedier, cheaper option to going by car? We put the train to its first test, with two teams pitted against each other in on Tuesday morning’s peak traffic, both headed from Joburg to Pretoria.
We start out from The Star’s office in the Joburg CBD, and head for the Pretoria News office in Vermeulen Street.
7.02am: Start your engines. Team Astra and Team Gautrain screech into gear and turn into Market Street. The looks of fierce competition intensify as we eye each other’s lane, hoping to cut in front of our colleagues.
7.05am: Under the stern eyes of metro police officers guiding traffic through the CBD, we’re neck and neck. Grimaces and fierce looks are exchanged each time one car edges past the other.
7.07 – 7.09am: Team Astra veer off Sauer Street to get to the highway, while Team Gautrain make their way through Braamfontein.
7.11am: Empire Road is, thankfully, unblocked, allowing Team Gautrain easier access to the highway.
7.13am: Team Gautrain arrive at Oxford Road and the Rosebank Gautrain station feels close enough to touch. But two robots before the station, the traffic clogs and slows.
7.19am: Team Astra, heading north along the M1, suddenly slow down to 40km/h at the Grayston off-ramp.
7.22am: The station comes into view and Team Gautrain turn towards the parking lot. Three minutes later and they are in the parking lot, which is fairly full.
Team Astra, meanwhile, move through the traffic and at the Marlboro off-ramp, they’re back to a cool 120km/h.
7.27am: Team Gautrain, with tickets bought before the trip, swipe them at the turnstiles and head towards platform B, noticing the crickets chirping in the mostly empty halls.
Team Astra make it to the Allandale off-ramp.
7.33am: Team Gautrain have 11 minutes to kill before the train leaves.
“I may only have to go through to Pretoria twice a week, but on a seven-day pass the train is cheaper than petrol,” says commuter Bryan Spector, who believes the Gautrain is the way forward. “Wait till the (road) tolls hit, then you’ll see,” he adds.
Patrick Kelly makes the trip to Pretoria every day for his work at the Statistics SA headquarters, and was happy to note that the limited feeder bus routes pass right by his office.
“I haven’t bought a 35-day pass yet – you’ve got to try the train first – but by first impressions, it looks like that’s what I’m going to do,” he says.
Team Astra are brought to a halt at Olifantsfontein off-ramp with an accident ahead; a taxi has overturned.
7.40am: The train moves. Swift, smooth and expensive. The R172 return ticket plus parking plus bus fare doesn’t feel quite so bad right now as we speed through the Rosebank tunnels.
7.43am: Gautrain passenger Zoya Mabuto comments that she’s used the Gautrain dozens of times, and is glad that the train can take her near Unisa, for her part-time studies. “I just wish the bus routes were better advertised and documented. I don’t know where I’m going to go once we arrive at Pretoria station,” she says.
Team Astra are still stuck on the highway.
7.44am: The train arrives at Sandton station and leaves within 45 seconds to a minute. Repeat performances at 7.46am at Marlboro, 7.53am at Midrand and 7.59am at Centurion.
Team Astra are still stuck.
7.45am: Team Astra take off at 120km/h, leaving the accident behind.
8am: Team Gautrain are on the same level as the multistorey Centurion Lake Hotel, the tracks seemingly floating over the roads below.
Team Astra have arrived in Pretoria.
8am – 8.15am: Team Gautrain are delayed at the Pretoria station because they have to wait 15 minutes for a feeder bus.
8.12am: Team Astra arrive at the Pretoria News. They call Team Gautrain to gloat.
8.30am: After travelling through the Pretoria CBD on a feeder bus, halting at five stops, Team Gautrain are dropped off at the corner of Struben and Schubart streets.
8.31 – 8.40am: Team Gautrain has to walk two blocks through the streets of central Pretoria before arriving at 216 Vermeulen Street. Team Astra have enjoyed coffee and a chat.
8.43am: Team Gautrain arrive on the second floor of the Pretoria News building. They’ve tasted defeat. The best woman won.
It really is cheaper by train!
*Team Gautrain: R86 for a train ticket plus R10 for parking, a R20 deposit and R6 bus fare. Total: R122. (This excludes cost of the car trip to Rosebank).
*Team Astra: According to the AA, the cost for a 59km trip in a 1400cc car including maintenance, fuel and insurance is R162,30. When the tolls come into effect, working on the estimated 58c/km gantry charges, there will be an additional R11,60 toll fee. Total: R173,90- The Star
* Share your Gautrain experience and pictures with us at [email protected].