290 A tunnel that leads to the Gautrain Park Station terminal that will soon be opened to the public. The blue light is the emergency exit point. 240412. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

A dispute between the Bombela Concession Company, which operates the Gautrain, and the Gauteng provincial government is threatening to delay the opening of the last leg of the route between Rosebank and Park Station in the CBD.

This week, a war of words erupted between the two parties after Bombela invited the media on a test run and said the trains were ready to roll; all it was waiting for was permission to start operations. It claimed the water seepage problems in the tunnel had been addressed.

Spokesman Errol Braithwaite said the ground below the track had been grouted to prevent water leaking in. Seepage through the walls of the tunnels was “minimal and normal”.

But the Gautrain Management Agency (GMA), which falls under the provincial government, disagrees.

In an angry response, GMA head Jack van der Merwe accused Bombela of minimising the water seepage problem.

“There is still a water problem in the tunnels from the walls that we are concerned about. It is probably fine to run trains in the short term, but we must remember that this tunnel has to last for the next 100 years. Bombela only has an agreement to operate the trains for the next 15 years, after which the Gauteng province will be responsible for any water damage,” he said.

The impression given to the media was that the water was a minor issue. “This is not factually correct, and the excessive water ingress issue remains unresolved,” Van der Merwe said.

The water limits are 10 litres a minute for every 10m, and the current seepage is above that, he said.

Last year, Bombela was instructed by the Dispute Resolution Board to remedy the situation by meeting the specifications for tunnel water inflow as set out in the contract between the province and Bombela. To date this has not been achieved, he said.

The problem exists along 1 200m of the 2 450m tunnel.

“What this means is that while Bombela may be able to manage the excessive quantity of water flowing into the tunnel and provide the train services in the short term, it has not provided any credible assurances to the province that the excessive amount of water will not cause irreparable harm to the tunnel itself, and the environment around it, in the long term.”

Van der Merwe said grouting had been done on the floors of the tunnel to stop the seepage, but not around the walls of the tunnel, and water was still coming in.

“We requested Bombela to develop a revised tunnel rectification plan to comply with the specifications. They can open the system between Rosebank and Park stations during the day and can rectify the wall water problems after hours without disrupting the service.”

The province is awaiting a response from Bombela.

How quickly it could develop the revised tunnel rectification plan and get it approved would determine how soon the Rosebank to Park Station section could be opened to the public, he said.

Van der Merwe said the cost of the rectification work was not the province’s responsibility.

Bombela has admitted that there is an ongoing disagreement over the interpretation of the tunnel specifications.

“We believe we have delivered what we have been contracted to do.

“We do not believe that practically or contractually the disagreement between the parties should delay the certification to operate Park Station,” said Kelebogile Machaka, Bombela spokeswoman.

No date has been set for the link’s opening due to the dispute. - The Star

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