High-speed train just the ticket for World Cup fans

Africa's first high-speed urban train started operating in Johannesburg on Tuesday 8 June, just in time to help World Cup fans bypass the city's notorious traffic congestion.

The new Gautrain, which runs to the ritzy Sandton district where many fans are staying, could be a godsend.

It ferried its first passengers from Sandton to the international airport in 15 minutes at a speed of 160km/h, compared with normal road journeys of 40 to 90 minutes depending on traffic.

A single ticket to the airport costs 100 rand (£8.90), prompting criticism that it will be too expensive for working class South Africans.

The train will eventually link Johannesburg and the sprawling township of Soweto to the capital Pretoria, but constructors rushed to finish the Sandton leg in time for the soccer World Cup.

Johannesburg and other World Cup venues have been disrupted for years by massive urban infrastructure projects including the 25 billion rand (£2.2 billion) Gautrain line being built under the city, which has involved blasting through rock, and extensive new road building. City authorities say the remaining construction work will be suspended during the tournament to ease traffic.

The trains on the new line were manufactured in Britain, by Bombardier in Derby. Fifteen complete Electrostar vehicles were exported and the remaining 81 of the 96 vehicles have been supplied as flat pack deliveries of roof, underframe, cab and intermediate end modules, for assembly in South Africa.

In addition, the Bombardier Engineering Centre of Excellence in Plymouth designed and supplied the signalling system. Teams from both sites have been in South Africa to ensure a smooth entry into service.

Bombardier significantly accelerated its programme of works so the line could open in time for the World Cup. The opening of Phase One of the rapid rail transit system will see a fleet of five trains provide passenger services on the 20-km route between Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport and the hotels, shopping and commercial hub of Sandton, with station stops at Marlboro and Rhodesfield in between.

 Eran Gartner, President, Systems Division at Bombardier Transportation, commented: "I commend Bombardier's multi-disciplined and dedicated team. They have overcome numerous challenges resulting from delays in the initial civil works to complete an accelerated programme for Phase One to enable Gauteng Province and South Africa to welcome Soccer World Cup visitors with Gautrain in its golden livery.

"This rapid rail transit system for South Africa brings world-class railway skills to the country. We are hopeful that Gautrain will be the inspiration and benchmark for wide-scale upgrading of South Africa's expansive passenger rail network, securing sustainable employment for our talented team, mobility for the nation and return on our significant investment in capacity-building."

 Upon completion of Phase Two, the Gautrain project will be a self-contained rapid rail link with 80km of dual track and ten stations, connecting South Africa's economic centre of Johannesburg to its national capital in Pretoria to OR Tambo International Airport.

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