Thu Jun 17th, 2010 at 12:26:53 AM EST
The Gautrain is not for you.
The Gautrain is the high-speed rail vanity project that accompanies the football stadium vanity projects (even when there were perfectly serviceable older stadiums nearby) that South Africa has built for FIFA but cannot afford. I understand that 'Eurotrib' (or those who think of themselves as Eurotrib) is a pro-HST site, but hopefully not uniformly, because here is a high speed rail project where the social wrong and white elephantism absolutely cry out. The basic injustice is described in the following paragraph:
All in the Name of the Beautiful Gain: On the World Cup in South Africa
South Africa desperately needs large-scale public infrastructure, especially in the area of public transport which in some cities, including Johannesburg, is almost entirely absent. The Gautrain, which was launched on Tuesday the 8th June (just in time for the big event) is probably the biggest irony here: in a country where the large majority rely on unsafe private mini-bus taxis to travel long distances on a daily basis, the Gautrain offers high speed, luxury transport for tourists and those travelling between Johannesburg and Pretoria . . . who can afford it as a single trip between the airport and Sandton will set you back a massive R100.
The injustice was first a major issue five years ago, with the news that the cost projections were boosted from $1 billion to at least $3 billion. And note the paragraph at the end in the following, reporting studies that found bus-only lanes on the Johannesburg-Pretoria highway would do the job of the expensive rail line at a fraction of the cost:
Trouble on the line for new SA train
By Justin Pearce
BBC News website, Johannesburg
Monday, 21 November 2005, 01:33 GMT
It is a single project which, if it goes ahead, will cost almost three times South Africa's transport budget for this year.
Depending on who you believe, it will either revolutionise the way South Africans see public transport and tempt them away from gridlocked roads - or it will swallow public money while transporting only a handful of white-collar professionals.
The Gautrain is intended to link Johannesburg - South Africa's economic hub - with the national capital, Tshwane (previously called Pretoria), 50km away in 40 minutes. . . .
In a country where passenger train services have been in a slow decline over the last few decades, the idea of a new railway route using new technology sounded like something out of science fiction.
But when the national treasury announced recently that the project was to cost government 20bn rand ($3bn) as opposed to the 7bn rand that had been spoken of previously, suddenly the Gautrain passed from science fiction into news headlines - and politicians started asking questions.
Matters were not helped by the fact that in the very same week that parliament's transport committee was discussing the Gautrain, commuters frustrated at delays started burning trains on the existing lines, with 26 carriages going up in flame in a single evening.
Jeremy Cronin, chairman of the parliamentary transport committee, pointed out the dangers of a mismatch between the large investment in the Gautrain alongside the neglect of the older services that serve poor, black suburbs. . . .
The concerns from parliament followed a presentation by public transport expert Romano del Mistro, who argued that bus-only lanes could be added to the Johannesburg-Pretoria highway at a fraction of the cost of the Gautrain, while the bus journey on a traffic-free lane would be only marginally longer than on the proposed train.
And word is the final cost, actually, will be closer to $5 billion than to 3.
A world-class employment project or a luxury for fat cats?
By Andrew Molefe
. . . In March 2008, while the building of the train was on full steam, chairman of the National Assembly's transport portfolio committee and deputy secretary-general of the SACP, Jeremy Cronin, bitterly complained about the cost that had apparently "quietly crept up to R35 billion."
A most prominent sceptic of the project, he told Parliament during a budget debate that his information was that the project's cost was escalating "quietly and below the radar screen", though MPs "were told, hand on heart, here in Parliament just a few years ago, that the absolute upper limit was [R20 billion]". . . .
The article then focuses on more criticism of the project from the poor and left out:
The fiercest criticism though, came from ordinary South Africans, who believed that money was being spent on the rich at the expense of the poor. They presented a laudable case, claiming the train will contemptuously bypass the poor masses.
Train won't go here.
"It does not have any stops at or lines to any of the townships of Gauteng where the transport problem is severe, and where the majority of the people of Gauteng are living. The planned fares of the line will also go far beyond the possibilities of South Africa's poor majority."
Besides, they pointed out that the project will consume a big chunk of available national and provincial transport funds, which should be used to improve commuter transport problems. Considering that the existing railway system that serves the majority of the population is severely under-funded, and that largescale and violent public unrest - caused by inadequate and old public rail transport systems - has manifested in the province, the Gautrain project was a slap in the face of the poor.
This is really quite sad. But, unfortunately, high speed rail has a sex appeal, and impresses a certain grade of folks:
Glitz, Glamour and the Gautrain: Mega-Projects as Political Symbols
[Only the abstract is free] Gautrain, South Africa's first high-speed metropolitan transport network, is being developed at a cost of nearly R25 billion. It is being primarily justified on the basis of its close association with South Africa's hosting of the 2010 World Cup. However, the sheer scale of the costs involved, set against the larger and more pressing national transport shortages, invariably prompts questions about the rationale behind the construction of the Gautrain. Focusing on rational, cost-benefit considerations, and special interest groups on the one hand, and political symbolism on the other, the article concludes that political symbolism appears to be a major explanation for the construction of the Gautrain.
And, in addition to the criticisms from the great majority of South Africans, who are poor, there is the apparent likelihood that even the wealthy won't use the system much. (However, there are plans to jack up the toll road charges -- see GAUTRAIN - PREPARE TO PAY FOR IT -- to force fat cats to use Gautrain. What those toll road charges will do to the non-wealthy?) The quote below also reprises the the HST for fat cats theme:
Red Cards for Fifa, Coke and South African Elites
New luxury transport infrastructure, for example, gambles on shifting rich people's behaviour away from private cars. But the $3 billion Gautrain rapid rail costs riders five times more than previously advertised and probably won't dislodge Johannesburg-Pretoria commuters, thanks to traffic jams and parking shortages at the new stations.
As labour leader Zwelinzima Vavi, put it, Gautrain "does nothing for those who really suffer from transport problems - above all, commuters from places like Soweto and Diepsloot. Instead, it takes away resources that could improve the lives of millions of commuters."
In a wealthy country, such a boondoggle would not be nearly so tragic. But South Africa is relatively poor, leads the race to the bottom in wealth maldistribution, and has exceptionally serious commuter rail funding and maintenance problems:
SA'S PASSENGER RAIL TIME-BOMB
South Africa is sitting on a passenger rail time-bomb, write Clayton Barnes and Noelene Barbeau in the Daily News (published in Durban):
"A third of the country's trains will be out of service by 2013. And if the government fails to secure new rolling stock by the end of the year, Metrorail's already stretched service will be under further pressure, resulting in more overcrowding on trains and longer delays. More than 280,000 passengers in KwaZulu-Natal make use of Metrorail's trains daily.
"The country's urban railway system will have totally collapsed within 10 years without the necessary recapitalisation. . . .
"He admitted that the country's commuter rail system was headed for disaster if the government did not buy new trains soon. `It doesn't make sense to keep refurbishing. It costs nearly as much as buying a new coach,' said Montana. "The current coaches are not built for the modern economy, and the levels of reliability are too low."
"But the Transport Department says it simply does not have the budget. Transport minister S'bu Ndebele acknowledged the need for more passenger trains, but said that there were other areas, such as roads, which also required huge investment.
Should we blame Gautrain at least in part on FIFA, that private monopoly and the caviar demands it places on potential host countries? Well yeah, partly, but many should share the blame. Any who romanticize HST instead of looking at it empirically should.