Natasha Marrian and Sapa
The Soweto Business Express, a new train aimed at enticing affluent groups to use public transport, started operating yesterday.
"The train is reasonable. It has facilities for people to use," said Transport Minister Jeff Radebe after his inaugural ride from Naledi to Dube station in Soweto.
"The refreshments and newspapers will be an attraction for the targeted market."
The train, which has been refurbished at about R2million, carries 530 passengers.
The freshly-painted white, gold and black exterior stood in stark contrast to the old Metrorail trains.
It is estimated the train will travel for about 40 to 45 minutes from Soweto to Johannesburg. A monthly ticket will cost R310 - almost double the cost for a normal Metrorail train.
The South African Rail Commuter Corporation (SARCC) and Metrorail said the express was going to be attractive because of the security, comfort, speed, Internet connections, newspapers, coffee, a park-and-ride facility and links to other transport networks.
Radebe said it would "make public transport accessible".
"It is aimed at encouraging the use of public transport rather than private cars," he said.
Asked if he would use the express, ANC Youth League president Fikile Mbalula said: "Yes, of course. It is a good initiative . we have a fast-growing middle class . it serves to diversify the public transport system and even unite people."
But a train commuter and retail manager Moses Nakedi said he was worried about the express' social implications.
"People who use taxis and buses undermine us because they think we are low class.
"Now there is a separate train for richer people, it might be worse," Nakedi said.
But he said the express will lessen traffic congestion on the Johannesburg-Soweto route.
"Metrorail must not forget the majority. They must not make the mistake of serving only certain individuals."
SARCC chief executive Lucky Montana said the service was "not created at the expense of the poor" but as a response to increased traffic volumes.
The Transport Department has invested R8,5billion in passenger rail infrastructure.