Gautrain to usher in a new travel experience

Getrude Makhafola

Getrude Makhafola

"Travelling is obviously not for the weak," said Edwin Reichel, a representative of the Gautrain project as we arrived in England.

The exhaustion, after enduring two flights, one a whole nine-hour haul, had taken its toll.

Flying is irritating and tiring. Tired and sleepy, I found myself bumping into the air hostesses on the narrow aisles while trying to make my way to the already long toilet queue.

Flying is never a pleasant experience, many travellers would agree with me.

Fast forward to 24 hours later. After a good night's rest, boarding another mode of transport, albeit for only a few minutes, made me appreciate the new technology brought into the train transportation system.

Gone were the noisy sounds from the tons of steel that make up some of those massive engines.

A ride in the Gautrain at its assembly plant in Derby, England, with Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa at the wheel, gave me a feeling that public transport in Gauteng would never again be the same for the 100000 commuters expected to use it daily between Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The sleek blue and gold train made a smooth and silent hiss along the test tracks at Derby.

Shilowa and other Gauteng government officials had flown in to witness the launch of the much-anticipated train.

The sleek five-car train epitomises what most South Africans might be looking forward to: a fast and smooth runner.

The interior of the Gautrain will have blue seats.

But a setback is that the aisles are narrow and do not make movement inside the train any easier.

Adjacent to each other, the seats have ample leg room, but moving from one coach to the next would, I thought, be an uncomfortable effort, especially for the fuller-figured commuter.

"As you can see, there are portable refuse bins and enough luggage storage near the doors in every coach," said chief executive of the Gautrain project, Jack van der Merwe, as the train made a gentle curve on the tracks during the test run at the Derby plant.

News from back home that the underground drilling for the Gautrain had caused a huge section of Oxford Road in Rosebank to cave in did not overly deter the Gautrain's executives or the visiting goverment officials.

But on hearing this news, journalists began banging on their computers, juxtaposing the two events.