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Here In Africa: Gauteng’s ‘Gautrain’

Barbara Durlacher brings a detailed report on one of the world’s biggest civil engineering projects – the building of an underground railway to serve a large commuter population in in South Africa’s Gauteng province.

To read more articles and stories by Barbara please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/joburg_days/

Gauteng is the smallest province in South Africa, with only 1.4% of the land area, but it is highly urbanised and in 2007 had a population of over 10.5 million, making it the most populous province in South Africa. It was formed from part of the old Transvaal after South Africa’s first all-race elections on 27 April 1994, and was previously known as the PWV (Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging) which delineated the large industrial and financial area covered by the three major cities. After the 1994 elections it was decided to rename the area ‘Gauteng' to commemorate the original occupants, the Sotho people, although today Gauteng, meaning ‘City of Gold’, refers mainly to Johannesburg, the biggest city in Southern Africa, the centre of the gold mining industry and the industrial and financial heart of the country.

For more than 60 years there was talk of building an underground railway to serve the large commuter population, but as time passed, various objections and obstacles made the idea unworkable. Then finally, in 2001, with a new multi-national government in place and the impetus of the Football World Cup in 2010 – as well as huge advances in engineering technology - sufficient authority and financial clout was applied for the project to go ahead and within a few short months, the end of the first stage will be reached. And what a project it is!

Ranked amongst one of the foremost civil engineering projects anywhere in the world (October 2009) Gauteng’s ‘Gautrain’ will, when finished, cover 80 kms of track, bore through 20 kms of the toughest sub-strata in some of the oldest rocks in Africa and provide the citizens of Gauteng with one of the finest rapid transport systems available.

The main South African contractors are the Bombela Consortium comprised of the French-Canadian Civil Engineering Contractors Bombardier, (the company which built much of the French TGV railway network as well as being associated with the British Electrostar Channel Tunnel trains and also the German DB rail network); the French Civil Contractor Bouygues Travaux Publics, and others. It also includes a major French rail and bus operating company and South Africa's largest civil engineering company, Murray & Roberts. Loliwe Rail Contractors and Loliwe Rail Express form part of the consortium’s black economic empowerment component.

The civil works of the eighty km route linking Johannesburg, Tshwane (Pretoria) and the Johannesburg (OR Tambo) International Airport will be undertaken by Bouygues Construction, Murray & Roberts and Loliwe Rail Contractors.

Bombardier, the lead member of the consortium, will be responsible for the core electrical and mechanical systems, including a fleet of Bombardier Electrostar vehicles. The opening of the rail link system, which includes ten stations (three of which are underground), 15kms of tunnelling - 3 kms of which were drilled by a TBM (tunnel boring machine) and 10 kms of viaducts. Fifty bridges and over- and underpasses were built, in the process consuming more than 100 000 cubic meters of concrete.

Ten stations are planned with parking for 10,000 cars and the railway itself is being laid to European Standard (1435mm) gauge using continuously welded rail and concrete sleepers. In the tunnels, low vibration concrete slab track will be installed to minimize vibrations which could be transmitted through the soil to overlying buildings. The rails will be elastically supported throughout to reduce noise and vibration levels. Additional noise barriers will be provided where required along the route. All construction is to the highest First World standards.

Environmental management considerations enjoy a high profile on the project and all construction activities are governed by the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) with daily inspections and regular audits conducted on all the sites by trained environmental personnel. “Search and rescue” exercises to find and relocate rare and endangered fauna and flora from the rail reserve have been carried out from the start of the project, which includes water treatment installations to pre-treat ground water pumped from the tunnels before release into the local watercourses. Re-cycling of rock removed from the tunnels, dust suppression and the cultivation of 5000 indigenous trees to replace those removed during construction has been a primary concern.

An independent bus feeder system has been designed and although this system will operate independently of the BRT (bus rapid transport system) run by the two major municipalities, it will interface with their timetables, and it is expected it will be running in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

The estimated cost of the project will be €1.7 billion (R26bn) but it has been stated that it would have cost nearly three times as much in Europe or Australia. Negotiation of the concession contract for the Gautrain commenced in July 2005, and financial close was achieved in 2006. See www.gautrain.co.za and www.bombela.co.za

The vehicles supplied by Bombardier are based on the tried and tested Electrostar train-sets already in service in the UK, which will be formed into four-car sets carrying about 450 passengers per train running at up to 160km/h (100mph). A central control hub located in Midrand (half-way between Johannesburg and Pretoria) for the monitoring and control of all train movements as well as the bus feeder system and key station and tunnel equipment is already in operation.

Safety standards range from passenger safety to every aspect of the engineering, including independent braking systems on each wheel-set as well as computer controlled acceleration. This is interpreted by Bombardier’s CITYFLO 250 system, a fixed block signalling system based on ‘distance and go’ principles, which transmits vital information to the automatic train protection (ATP) system, including the weight of each carriage as well as the acceleration and braking forces to be applied to each carriage.

Recorded CCTV coverage of all stations and trains, as well as all key locations along the route is standard, as is a 24-hour security presence in all stations and parking areas. Comprehensive safety drills are on-going so that in the event of an incident fully trained personnel are available. With convenience and passenger comfort of paramount importance, safety standards are among the most stringent in the world, and the margin for error before tough financial penalties are applied is so tight that only three incidences per one million passengers per month is allowed.

A documentary of the building of the Gautrain will form part of a forthcoming "Mega Structures" television series on satellite tv - the crew are filming at the moment – which will show that this South African engineering achievement is on a par with similar mega-structures anywhere in the world.


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