Gautrain usage to date corresponds well with the forecasts. The management expects 140,000 passengers a day to use the service when the final phase is completed in the middle of 2011.

Jack van der Merwe, CEO of the Gautrain Management Agency, said initial forecasts predicted 77,000 passengers a week would use the first phase between Sandton and OR Tambo International Airport. In the first few months of operation, the average was about 76,000. “This is a clear indication that our forecasts were quite accurate. This gives us renewed confidence that 140, 000 people would use the system each day when fully operational,” van der Merwe says.

The second and final phase of the project – south from Sandton to Park Station in the Johannesburg CBD, and north from Sandton to Pretoria – will be completed “in June or July” next year. On a recent tour on the northern section of the lines, it was clear that most of the civil works would be completed by the end of the year. The contractors are expected to hand over the stations in Centurion, Hatfield and Pretoria within a month, to allow specialist teams to complete signalling, electrical and other installations by mid-2011.

The line between Midrand and Pretoria presented the contractors with several challenges due to the dolomitic geology around Centurion. The line through Centurion is elevated and protected from possible sinkholes by a ground-level “U-bridge” extending 6km. “This system will allow trains to continue to run even if a sinkhole does form, allowing us to fix the problem without halting the service,” van der Merwe says.

Since the service began operating in June, there have been few complaints, with 90 trains running between 90% and 95% on time. One issue that has come up is a request for longer operating hours. However, the system is running at the same time that construction is still taking place in Sandton. “We need down-time to complete the work at Sandton,” van der Merwe explains, “and on the line towards Johannesburg. Once the system is complete we will investigate longer operating hours.” Currently the trains run between 05:30 and 20:30.

Responding to criticism that many Gautrain buses are running empty, he said the service has been running as though the Gautrain is complete.”Once the entire system is up and running, we will see more passengers on the buses.”

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