On a recent trip to Johannesburg, I was very excited to take a trip on the Gautrain, the new high-speed rail link which currently connects OR Tambo Airport to the Northern suburb of Sandton. It will in future connect as far as the old Joburg city centre and Brooklyn in Pretoria. There’s been a lot of hype about it, so this is what I thought of it.
Upon arriving at OR Tambo station, one is presented with 3 ticketing machines, very similar to the ones found in London for the Oyster Card system they operate there. The volumes of people wanting to use the station far outweigh the capabilities of the 3 machines, so make sure you get there early! There are plenty of staff around to assist though with loading credit onto the Gautrain cards – you don’t buy tickets, you load credit which is deducted each time you swipe your card to get through the entrance and exit gates. The card is mandatory and costs a once off R10 per person, the ride from the airport to Sandton will set you back R100 each way, cheaper than a taxi ride, but still steep.
One can see why they need to recoup costs for their construction though, the system is almost beyond first world, with clear glass turnstiles and superior, imported Bombardier carriages. All this makes for a very reassuring and secure trip. The trains are almost entirely silent, save for the whirring of electricity; and they are completely comfortable with posh cushioned seats. The ride is incredibly quick and seamless, one is in Sandton from the airport within 15 minutes.
But, the trip back is where everything started to go wrong, we arrived back at the very modern 44 meter deep Sandton Gautrain station to make our way back to the airport and were stopped outside by security guards who said the station was too full to let any people in. The queue quickly built up round the block. Once allowed into the station (after about 10 minutes), we were made to queue another 10 minutes for the turnstiles and then another 10 minutes for the escalators and finally, queue for the train itself.
The experience was rather mixed, very first world, but quite pricey and with trains only every 12 minutes or so, currently they do not have the capacity to cater for the sheer volumes of passengers who want to use the service.