High-speed rail prelim study completed, SA secures Japan commitment

21st January 2013
Natasha Odendaal

The development of a high-speed rail link between Johannesburg and Durban could potentially remove between 1.9-million tons and 3.6-million tons a year of freight volumes off South Africa’s roads, a prefeasibility study (PFS) has found.

Speaking at the second South Africa-Japan Railway conference, in Midrand, on Monday, Japan International Consultants for Transportation technology headquarters senior manager Yoshimasa Sakon said that, by 2050, the current Johannesburg-Durban rail system would carry freight volumes of 600 000 t/y.

However, with the development of a R160-billion high-speed rail route, based on Japan’s Shinkansen rail, the volume could reach between 2.5-million and 4.2-million tons a year.

The study, which was undertaken from August 2011 to February 2012, compared three routes from Johannesburg to Durban, including a railway running parallel to the current system, navigating through Newcastle.

The high-speed rail development could reduce travelling time for passengers to three hours, travelling at 300 km/h, from morning to late evening, while freight transport time could be reduced to five hours, at 160 km/h during the night.

Sakon also pointed out that a passenger high-speed rail system – with a 600- to 900-person capacity on an 8- to 12-car configuration – between the two cities could potentially carry 15 000 to 17 000 travellers a day by 2025, and between 33 000 and 38 000 a day by 2050.

This was compared with the current forecast of 600 000 train travellers, 2.2-million vehicles and 3.9-million air travellers expected to travel between Johannesburg and Durban each year by 2050.

Further, the PFS revealed that the project had the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to between 900 000 t/y and 1.8-million tons a year and nitrogen oxide emissions by between 3 000 t/y and 7 000 t/y by 2050.

The Tambo Springs inland port was revealed as the most cost-effective and environment-friendly location for a Johannesburg-based freight station, while Germiston station proved the most viable passenger station ahead of Johannesburg station and Marlboro station, said Sakon.

The study found that, should the proposed project advance, it would result in economic development, social upliftment, job creation, a reduction in road accidents and less stress on the country’s already strained roads.

The link was expected to partially open in 2020 with an initial Phase 1, 100 km “airport” access link between King Shaka International Airport and Pietermaritzburg. Phase 2 would see the development completing the 500 km link between Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg.

Sakon noted that a number of approvals were still required to move the project forward, including the Department of Transport’s (DoT’s) authorisation to embark on a feasibility study.

DoT deputy director-general Dr Lanfranc Situma said the department was currently examining the study and would present it to Cabinet once it had determined the benefits the project could hold for South Africa.

The release of the PFS comes as a South African delegation to Japan last week secured commitment from the Asian country to invest in South Africa’s rail industry, while ensuring sufficient skills transfer.

Portfolio Committee on Transport chairperson Nozabelo Bhengu said on Monday that Japan’s advanced rail technology and expertise and South Africa’s ambitious modernisation programme provided an opportunity for the countries to collaborate and cooperate on development of South Africa’s outdated railway system.

However, she noted that South Africa would not buy or develop the required technology without assurance that it would help tackle the country’s social challenges, enable skills transfer, boost investment and ensure economic development, job creation and local beneficiation.

Bhengu said Japan’s Ministers “understood” South Africa’s requirements and agreed that, should Japan invest, it would work towards ensuring South Africa reaps sustainable benefits, particularly in terms of skills transfer.

The delegation, led by Bhengu and comprising chairpersons from the portfolio committees on Public Enterprises and Economic Development, on Sunday completed a week-long tour of Japan’s railway systems, while meeting with government and private rail companies to analyse the link between transport and economic benefits.

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