Photo: Chris Collingridge
Photo: Chris Collingridge

Gautrain fails to live up to promises

By Anna Cox Time of article published Sep 8, 2011

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The Gautrain – mooted as a R30 billion world-class rapid rail system and the answer to Gauteng’s public transport woes – has stalled for the fifth time in less than a month.

Grand promises made ahead of the launch assuring passengers of smooth running and a professional service are being broken.

By the end of June, the project had cost South Africa R30.462bn.

On Tuesday, the trains were hit four times due to power problems. Although not stopped altogether, the bullet trains ran much slower, resulting in delays for passengers.

Bombela, the consortium which operates the train, blamed City Power, saying it was a general disruption in electricity to Rhodesfield situated close to OR Tambo International Airport.

In 2010, during a period of load shedding by Eskom, Gautrain project manager Jack van der Merwe declared that the train would be fully operational at all times regardless of the power supply. He claimed that load shedding and municipal power problems were not a concern as Gautrain’s power would be sourced from three different substations as back-up.

Numerous other assurances have been given by both Bombela and the Gauteng province about the provision of power to the train.

However, Bombela said the Gautrain was one of several entities affected by a general power supply problem in the Rhodesfield area on Tuesday.

Bombela spokesman Errol Braithwaite said normal operations were resumed as soon as full power to the Rhodesfield station was restored.

“We cannot be held responsible for general power grid problems,” he said.

Another promise made was that cable thieves would never be able to gain access to cables.

Yet twice in one week last month the train ground to a halt because cable thieves managed to make off with copper cables supplying the train.

Gautrain staff had given firm assurances that they were undaunted by crime and cable theft, having taken advice from foreign public transport train set-ups that had thwarted cable thieves.

The Gautrain website states: “Please take note that as of 10 November (2010) the Bombela team will commence the electrical energising of the Gautrain overhead electrification system between the Midrand depot and Samrand area. From that date onward, the whole location must be considered as fully energised 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“The overhead cables will be at 25 000 volt AC.

“Under no circumstances should any person without a valid permit trespass within 10m of any active part of the ‘live’ facilities. The environment is extremely dangerous for everyone.

“Any unlawful contact or interference with the electrification system may result in electrocution or immediate death.”

Yet the thieves in both cases escaped unscathed and the Gautrain system was left unoperational for several hours as technicians scrambled to repair the damage.

Last week, commuters were trapped on board for almost two hours between Centurion and Midrand because of a power failure.

This was not due to cable theft, but another “technical problem”.

Bombela could not explain what caused the stoppage, saying it was a “pantograph” problem. This, it said, was the overhead arm that powered the train and which had temporarily lost power. - The Star

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