The Gautrain
(Getty Images)
  • With passenger demand down 80%, the Gautrain no longer plans to buy second-hand trains to fend off congestion.
  • It now sees a "longer path" before congestion becomes a serious problem.
  • Gautrain 2, which had been pencilled in to start construction in 2024, is also on hold.
  • That would have seen the luxury commuter train reach parts of Soweto, and Cosmo City to the north of Johannesburg.
  • It may also have required a financial contribution from the whole of South Africa, via general transport-related levies.
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The Gautrain no longer believes it will soon need more trains to stop overcrowding during peak times.

It also no longer thinks a big expansion to its closed rail network – which would have given residents of Soweto and Cosmo City easy access to the high-end system – could start by 2024.

The Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) had cancelled tenders first issued in 2019 seeking to buy second-hand trains from abroad, Engineering News and Moneyweb first reported on Thursday.

The trains were expected to come from the United Kingdom, where operators are upgrading their fleets, and were intended to prevent congestion on key lines during peak times, on the assumption that passenger numbers would continue to grow steadily.

In reality, demand for the service has fallen off a cliff, with usage down 70% in December and down 80% in January, after SA's newly-hardened lockdown was imposed.

The GMA now says it will take up to three years for demand to fully recover. That could push out trouble with too many riders towards 2026, when the current concession is due to end, and new investment is expected.

The lack of demand has also seen a change in the expected dates for Gautrain 2, a huge expansion of the service. By mid 2020 there was still hope that construction on Gautrain 2 could start before the end of 2024, but that has been dashed.

The first phase of the expansion had been due to see the network expand from Marlboro to Little Falls in Roodepoort. A second phase had been due to see it expand to Soweto, with a final reach into Boksburg, Lanseria, Irene, and Mamelodi. 

Gautrain expansion

How the project would be funded was never settled. 

Proposals included a 30% contribution to the capital cost from the government – and another third to be collected from consumers around South Africa via levies such as airport taxes or vehicle licence fees.

With the government already scrambling to find new and additional sources of revenue to fund spending on combatting the coronavirus, that suggestion did not go down particularly well. 

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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