A magnetic levitation (Maglev) train leaves the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai. A similar train is planned between Durban and the King Shaka International Airport.

Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal provincial government has thrown its weight behind a plan to build a multibillion-rand monorail between Durban and King Shaka International Airport, with construction expected to start by 2017.

Talks in the city on Tuesday between China Railway International Group and the provincial government also included the long-awaited high-speed train between Durban and Joburg – first mooted in 2007 by former transport MEC Bheki Cele.

Officials said on Tuesday they expected the high-speed train project to also “materialise” by 2017.

In 2010, when the plan to build the rail route between the two cities was listed as one of 18 national strategic infrastructure projects by President Jacob Zuma, it was expected to carry a price tag of R530 billion and would cut the six-hour journey between the two cities to just three hours, travelling at 350km/h.

Officials say the memorandum of understanding will be signed off this month.

Desmond Golding, head of the Department of Economic Development and Tourism and Environmental Affairs, handed over the memorandum at the Dube Tradeport on Tuesday.

He said it was a culmination of “lengthy and comprehensive” discussions and co-operation between the the company and the provincial government.

He said the rail group was taking the document to China for perusal by its lawyers.

But he expected the final agreement to be signed off by the province’s leadership within two weeks.

“The monorail is our top priority. This project is entirely dependent on the provincial government. The high-speed train between Durban and Johannesburg is a national project which involves Transnet, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, the Free State, the Gauteng provincial government and, of course, KZN,” he said.

Golding said both projects were accepted as viable and now feasibility studies into costs, land acquisitions and environmental impact studies would get under way for both projects. “We cannot comment on costs. The old, original feasibility study has changed now,” he said.

He said that both the provincial and national governments were looking at funding models.

“We are looking at a mixed bag of funding sources which will include both the private and public sector,” he said.

The railway group built at least half of the rail infrastructure in China, which exceeds 10 000km, and includes a 1 200km high-speed rail line between Beijing and Shanghai which, according to the board chairman, Gan Baixian, was completed in four years.

He said the project in China had resulted in up to 10 000 direct jobs during the construction period.

On Tuesday Baixian, through an interpreter, told The Mercury that a detailed technical proposal to build both the monorail between the international airport and a high-speed train between Durban and Joburg was now “on the table”.

Baixian said that technicians at the company had worked on details of the proposed high-speed train for years, but that the project had not proceeded owing to “some setbacks”.

He said the 45km monorail between the airport and Durban city would act as a pilot project ahead of the major construction programme for the rail route to Gauteng.

“We have a working team who are realistic now. We will work through the steps carefully with the provincial government,” he said.

While Baixian said he was “very familiar” with the current railway line between Durban and Gauteng, he could not confirm whether the speed train would take the same route as the existing infrastructure.

”I don’t think it will,” he said.

The Mercury