South Africa’s only high-speed rail network is drawing up a multi-billion dollar expansion plan outside Johannesburg and Pretoria, adding to a potential bonanza of infrastructure projects that the government says are critical to revitalizing the economy.
A proposal for the venture is awaiting approval from the National Treasury, William Dachs, chief executive of Gautrain, said in an interview.
The investment and loans would come from a mix of private investors and state institutions like the Southern African Development Bank, he said.
“Cities that don’t plan around public transport suffer major financial and economic consequences,” said Dachs.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has put infrastructure at the center of his plan to revive an economy devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, underinvestment and corruption.
He sees the government spending R100 billion ($ 6.2 billion) on various projects, with the goal of attracting 10 times more private investment in four years.
His plans include the privatization of some older rail systems and routes, which have struggled with years of mismanagement, vandalism and theft.
The Gautrain expansion would add another 150 kilometers (93 miles) of tracks to the existing 80 km network, connecting more remote destinations like Soweto, which has a population of around 2 million people.
The municipality was separated from Johannesburg during the apartheid era, when the white minority government created settlements for blacks away from large cities and workplaces, although it did not provide adequate public transport.
Ramaphosa’s infrastructure initiatives – including the expansion of Gautrain – would help to alleviate the chronic problem of unemployment in South Africa. The number of people with jobs in South Africa fell to the lowest in nine years in the second quarter, while more than 20 million people are classified as economically inactive.
Gautrain, whose operator has shareholders including the French railway group RATP Dev, was built as part of South Africa’s preparations to host the 2010 World Cup.
The transport system has an excellent track record of punctuality and minimal security incidents, according to Dachs. Each rand that the government invested in the group had a return of at least double, he said.
The railway company is named after the province of Gauteng and the name translates as ‘golden train’, a reference to Johannesburg’s origins in the 19th century as a gold mining town.
Read: Taxpayers should pay for Gautrain expansion