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Stimela 2010

Stimela 2010

by Carlos Amato / 01.02.2010

The Gautrain is like a gigantic steel email. I took a trip on one this week. It glided, whispering, out of its designer station adjoining OR Tambo Airport’s Terminal A, sailed regally over a clogged freeway and made a beautiful beeline for Sandton at 160km/h. Inside, we passengers felt like advanced organisms, smug and snug in our Canadian phallus of clean modernity. We had to penetrate the city in order to save it.

Will the Gautrain save Jo’burg? You’d hope so, at the price. The realisation of Gauteng’s rapid rail network is costing the state a cool R3-million every hour. The final bill will klap our collective pockets to the tune of R25-billion. Given our calamitous health, housing and educational backlogs, it’s not hard to get freaked by all those zeroes, especially since the project will not be a panacea for Gauteng’s escalating transport nightmare.

Because most of the network’s customers will not be the taxi-enslaved working-class Gautengers who urgently need a cheap, safe and comfortable passage to work every day. The service doesn’t come close to any townships except Alexandra.

Gautrain still sleeping

Hence the SACP and other pro-poor voices have long derided the Gautrain as a grotesque, neoliberal vanity project. Its technocratic champions, they say, are cravenly grasping at the cosmetic trappings of “world-classness” without actually possessing (or distributing) the wealth those trappings are meant to illustrate.

First conceived by then Gauteng premier Tokyo Sexwale, the project became the “Shilowa Express” under Mbhazima’s stewardship. Since then, Shilowa’s political career has moved into a siding.

No matter who is Gauteng premier, the Gautrain will always bear the ideological signature of Thabo Mbeki, who was so tediously hung up on devising ostentatious symbols of African prestige, instead of knuckling down to the dirty, boring work of grassroots delivery.

But the Gautrain isn’t actually a waste of money. It offers ostentation and delivery in equal measure. Because against the background of peak oil, mass urbanisation and climate change, the transport system is critically ill, and the Gautrain is part of the cure.

Silver Bullet

The Gautrain is an arterial scaffold, around and between which the Bus Rapid Transport network, the revived Metrorail network and a reformed taxi industry must form the capillaries. The Gautrain will also run its own bus service – 36 routes connecting to its stations from suburban areas.

If you commute daily between Jo’burg and Pretoria on the Gautrain, you’ll pay about R1000 a month for your ticket. A trip between Park Station and Pretoria will take 38 minutes. Between OR Tambo and Sandton? Less than fifteen minutes. Plus you can read, work, chat, think, breathe. It’s called modern civilisation.

Those are the pull factors. The push factors will be new highway tolls, peak-oil petrol prices and ever-thickening traffic.

In due course, the Gautrain stations will become the seeds of a new, densified, intelligent, pedestrianised Johannesburg. High-rise apartment blocks will sprout around Rosebank, Marlboro and Midrand. The streets will be reclaimed from the shadows and the killers (both phantom and real). Bicycles and feet will become legitimate transport devices. Clubs and bars and theatres and cafes will cluster like crystals around the stations, and the reigning cultures of drunk driving and mall-cruising will die a natural death.

In short, Johannesburg will get a life.

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  1. Dave says:

    Joburg rocks!

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  2. Johan says:


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  3. Jess says:

    This is a giant leap in our infrastructure. Awehness!

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  4. Ben Amato says:

    Sailing over a freeway sounds too good to be true. Bring it on!

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  5. Jeff says:

    Took a ride on the BRT to Soweto last weekend and it’s a good system – together with the Gautrain it should finally offer Johannesburg’s citizens and visitors some long overdue quality transport alternatives.

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  6. ex patriot says:

    I can imagine what the trains will look like 1 month after being in service.. just like what happened to Hillbrow….

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  7. JD says:

    Ja… I’ll just wait and see…

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  8. Roger Young. says:

    Comment by ex patriot sponsored by 1998

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  9. Andy says:

    location Perth

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  10. John says:

    … do you think that ex patriot is a former SA-lover, or that he just does not know how to spell ‘expatriate’?

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  11. Andy says:

    think it’s a clever play on words… but it begs the question when was he a patriot? Because it’s hard to find pre-1994 patriots who will admit it…

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  12. Anonymous says:

    ex-pat probably works in midrand, in an office block where the blacks still work in the workshop…ONLY

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  13. malcolm says:

    “Because it’s hard to find pre-1994 patriots who will admit it…” nicely put andy… perhaps that’s what’s hidden behind the clever word play?

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  14. funk-buddah says:

    there’s sum bubbling wordz on the streets on who will be the first Graf artist or Kru to bomb that iron horse…

    i wonder….

    but big up to the P.C.P Kru.

    and mahala ya rockaaaaaa.

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  15. Comforted says:

    Great stuff. Now let’s get some of this sophistication to Cape Town PLEASE.

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  16. Moose says:

    can you take a bike on the train? if so I can imagine using it. but without the ‘capillaries’ in action its impossible. How do I get to my meeting after being dumped in Pretoria?

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  17. Mike Miller (USA) says:

    Looks good to me. I think that Warren Buffet might be interested. He has just sunk billions (US Dollars!) into northern USA railroads. I like trains (especially the old Garretts which used to ply between Joh;burg & Cape Town). Smoke gets in your eyes!

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  18. Lauricetb says:

    “On a good day – when the monsoon season is not in full swing, and it has been for three weeks – Joburg’s roads resemble the face of a pockmarked acne-ridden teenager. Crevices and dongas, all flaring and angry. The robots don’t work and if they do the roadworks mock them. I have spent the past few days in the car — not waving but drowning, not really driving but sitting…” A reponse to Carlos Amato at Nothing to do in JOburg besides….http://todoinjoburg.co.za/?p=706

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  19. […] Read Carlos Amato’s full take by clicking here. […]

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  20. Philippa says:

    Great article, and a very exciting time for SA. Is the Gautrain operating in full swing or was this a pilot journey?

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  21. wipneusie says:

    Great to know this is finally up and running. A new Skytrain line now connects Vancouver to its airport near Richmond, and there is nothing sexier than the new light rapid rail, especially if you can bring your bike on it!

    Well balanced article: despite the concerns, the gautrain really is a first step towards a civilised transport infrastructure for Gauteng!

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  22. Liza says:

    can’t wait! nowI can finally read on my way to work!

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  23. There are lot of noises out side there around Africa about this super thing of Gauntrain,
    I m one of the Lucky one to Experience that Wow moment in it marble interior.
    you guys should be proud having this kind of modern infrastructure introduced to you.
    and please keep it clean dears and think positive.
    i hope Julis Malema wont intoxicate the youth to go and Shit inside the train,just because it was a white people adeas.
    well The world cup is over i m traveling back home next week.
    contact for comment


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  24. 2010 FiFa World Cup South Africa was superb

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