By Duncan Guy
Air travellers out of Johannesburg will not need to see their baggage en route to London, Sydney, Hong Kong or any other destination after Sandton station.
That's from 2006 when the R7-billion high-speed Gautrain Rail Rapid Link - dubbed the "Shilowa Express" - takes them to a station underneath the airport terminal. Their fare will be included in their air ticket.
Announcing details of the route, Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa told potential investors at a conference in Sandton that the newkm of track connecting Pretoria and Johannesburg's existing stations and the airport would go through 11km of underground tunnels and for 5km over bridges.
"From Park Station (Johannesburg) it will mainly be in tunnels for the 6km to Rosebank, then 5km underground to Sandton."
It will surface 4km beyond Sandton on its way to Marlboro where a branch will go off to the airport.
In the Pretoria direction, beyond Marlboro, it will cross the N3 and follow the west bank of the Jukskei River to Midrand station before stopping at Centurion, on the north shore of the town's lake, and finally Pretoria. From there a 6km extension will go to the suburb of Hatfield.
This week, around 370 delegates will hear details of the Gauteng government-driven project's economic feasibility.
Full details of the tender process will be announced as well.
By 2003 the final negotiation with the successful bidder is expected to be announced, and construction should start, so that by 2006 the train should be running, project leader Jack van der Merwe told a press conference.
In his address at the opening of the two-day conference, Shilowa said the successful bidder would have to put in safety measures in the trains and around stations, provide adequate and safe parking around the 10 stations as well as facilities for adequate bus services to stations.
"We are developing a code of conduct and ethics for all those involved. It would require all of us involved in the process to fully declare direct and indirect financial interest in the project."
This, he said, would counter corruption.
Transport Minister Dullah Omar, also addressing the investors at the opening of the conference, said the project would be a forerunner to others in Southern Africa and on the continent.
He pointed out that the public-private partnership would be very different to previous transport policy in South Africa when the government was "the player and the referee".
"In the past two years we have been working feverishly with the support of international friends to complete draft legislation for setting up an independent rail safety authority," said Omar.
He said government's role in Gauteng's high-speed rail project would be in an environment with "level playing fields". - Sapa-Johnnic Online