Rail transport in the Johannesburg area of South Africa entered a new era in 2011 with the opening of the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link. The project will serve the Gauteng area with a rapid transport service, providing a safe, efficient and reliable service to both commuters and airport travellers.

The Gautrain project has been the subject of extensive planning, following feasibility studies in the late 1990s to produce the first plans for a north-south and east-west rail route serving the Gauteng Province. As with many other rapid transit projects, Gautrain is aimed at reducing road congestion and aiding economic development.

The R25.4bn project is being managed as part of the Gauteng Department of Finance and Economic Affairs Public Private Partnership Unit and was initiated by the provincial government.

After opening the project to tender, the chosen consortium was Bombela (Bombardier, Bouygues Travaux Publics, South African civil contractor Murray & Roberts and Strategic Partners Group), which will also maintain and operate it for 20 years.

"Gautrain is aimed at reducing road congestion and aiding economic development."

The project

There are two main routes on the system: a north-south line from Hatfield to Marlboro and an east-west line from Park station (via Marlboro) to Johannesburg International Airport.

The network will be 80km long in total when Phase 1 and 2 are completed.

Phase 1 will include stations at Sandton, Marlboro, Midrand, Rhodesfield and Johannesburg International Airport. Phase 2 will extend the system from Sandton to Rosebank and Park Station – in Johannesburg – and from Midrand to Centurion, Pretoria and Hatfield, completing the 80km network.

Following the awarding of the contract to the Bombela Consortium in September 2006, work has taken place on both routes, with the aim of commercial services starting in 2011. Gautrain started operations between Rosebank station in Johannesburg and Hatfield on 2 August 2011. The remaining section is yet to be operational.


The construction and completion of the project will witness various stages of development. Going by the schedule, Sandton to OR Tambo International Airport will be completed and tested in approximately 45 months from the start of construction. The remaining six stations inclusive of the links from Sandton to Johannesburg Park Station and Midrand to Hatfield will be completed and tested in 54 months.

Gautrain’s tunnel boring machine (TBM) recently completed its last meter project. The TBM completed a 3km tunnel running between Rosebank station and Emergency Shaft 2, situated at the Wilds in Houghton. The remaining 15km tunnel between Johannesburg Park Station and Marlboro Portal is being excavated using conventional drilling and blasting methods.

In the southern section, the Johannesburg Park Station base slab at rail level is complete and construction of platform walls is in progress. The concourse slab is in an advanced stage and construction of the roof slab is in progress.

There will be as many as seven emergency access shafts in the single-track rail tunnel between Park Station and Sandton Station. The shafts will give emergency services personnel access to the tunnels. There will be safe havens at the bottom of some of these shafts, where passengers can gather in case of an emergency.

At Emergency Access Shaft E2 (The Wilds, Houghton), where excavation of the 236m adit is complete, tunnelling from the end of this connecting passage is advancing along the main tunnel route in both southerly and northerly directions.

The construction work at Sandton Station’s three-level underground parkade is fast progressing and excavation for vehicle parking is complete. This apart, piling, foundation and column construction of the parkade structure are ongoing.

According to a recent project report, the tunnel excavation from Marlboro Portal is complete. Within this section of the tunnel, construction of invert slabs, walkways and the partition wall towards MFP is also complete, as is the cut and cover structure adjoining the portal.

"The Gautrain Rapid Rail Link is expected to provide at least 380 jobs in the area on opening."

In the northern section, construction of the depot facilities, including the Bus Depot and the Train Depot administration buildings, is partly complete. Installation of equipment in the Operations Control Centre (OCC) in the train depot administration building is nearing completion. This will be the main centre from where telecommunications, signalling, traction power and distribution of CCTV cameras, automatic fare collection and maintenance will be managed. At the Train Depot, Gautrain’s 24 train sets will be maintained, serviced, cleaned and securely stabled overnight.

Rolling stock

Bombardier will supply a fleet of 96 Electrostar vehicles, based on the 1,100 already in service in the UK, where they achieve high availability figures. In South Africa, they will be formed into three and four-car sets, and will usually run at up to 160km/h (100mph) with 80 seated and 20 standing passengers. Part of the order will be dedicated to the airport service, with these trains accommodating only seated passengers.

The vehicles will be manufactured at Bombardier’s Derby works in the UK, which has recently been tasked with building a new fleet of trains for commuter rail services in the London suburbs. Final assembly will take place in South Africa and the fleet will be based at a purpose built maintenance facility located at Midrand, just north of the junction at Marlboro.

The body shells and major components for the remaining 81 rail cars are being shipped to South Africa. Before the end of June 2009, the first locally assembled four-car train set is expected to be completed.

Fare technology

Collection of passenger fares will be based on a contactless smart card (CSC) system using a smart chip and RFID, which enables customers to hold the card near a card reader to register their journey by a system. Passengers will be able to register their cards with the Gautrain operator, which will enable blacklisting of the card in case of lost or stolen.

The moment any misuse happens, the AFC system automatically generates auditable transaction data and management reports and secures revenue by access control and fare media security. Then the access control gives out audible warnings to drivers, leading to blacklisting. In addition, the CSCs use a variety of electronic access controls to prevent incomplete transactions by the commuters.

Signalling and communications

The OCC to be located at the Midrand Depot will fully control all the train movements and comprise a communications control centre to monitor the bus feeder system and key stations. This comprises Bombardier’s CITYFLO 250 system, a fixed-block signalling system based on "distance to go" principles with major information being regularly transmitted to the onboard Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system.

The train service is fitted with a fully integrated audio and visual passenger information system. This includes external visual information about the destination using ultra-bright yellow LEDs. Inside the train, each car is fitted with two high-resolution display units providing regular information about the train’s destination and movements. In case of delays, train drivers and conductors will be able to make announcements using the public address system.

Safety and security

Relying on the best international security technology, Gautrain will maintain the highest standards used by modern trains in Europe and the US. The measures include installation of over 650 closed circuit television cameras on trains and station precincts.

Also commuters can see policing by Gautrain security officers and the SAPS Transport Police. In a bid to prevent vandalism and unwanted entries, a 2.4m-high security fence will be maintained and monitored on-screen. A computerised signalling system will prevent head to head train collisions. Gautrain will use an internationally used wider track gauge-‘Standard Gauge’, to ensure safety at higher speeds. In case of any untoward incidents, alarm systems will automatically register for necessary rescue actions.

To enhance safety there is an onboard ATP system. This is a safety-critical system that constantly monitors the movement of the train. It also warns the driver in case of over-speeding and when approaching stop signals. In case the driver does not reduce speed sufficiently, the system will automatically order the vehicle to apply controlled brakes.

The system is designed for a maximum train speed of 160kph. The interlocking system provides movement authority information to the train that allows the train to calculate and monitor a smooth journey and apply gradual brake.

"Gautrain will maintain the highest standards used by modern trains in Europe and the US."

The future

The Gautrain Rapid Rail Link is expected to provide at least 380 jobs in the area on opening, and that number is expected to grow to 480 within another ten years.

Gautrain will bring a modern railway route to the area and with its connection to Johannesburg International Airport and stations in densely populated commuter areas, will become an important role in social regeneration.

Alongside the railway operation, the Gautrain network will have bus feeder services to eliminate the need for private car usage to reach stations on the system, contributing to an overall reduction in congestion and pollution.