China visit inspires South African high-speed rail link plan

16:57, April 14, 2010      

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Inspired by a visit to China, South Africa's Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele is championing the construction of a multibillion-rand, high-speed rail link between the coastal city of Durban and the commercial hub Johannesburg.

Addressing the media in Cape Town on Tuesday, Ndebele said his interest in a high-speed rail link was heightened by a recent visit to China, which was busy constructing a high-speed rail link between Shanghai and Beijing.

This led him to the idea about South Africa's national transport master plan until 2050.

The Business Day newspaper in Johannesburg reported on Wednesday that Ndebele said the high-speed rail link between Durban and Johannesburg would cut transport times from about 12 to three hours.

Speaking before his budget vote speech in the South African parliament on Tuesday, Ndebele said that details of the ambitious project were being finalized, and he would ask the South African cabinet in this financial year to approve a feasibility study.

Business Day said the proposal is likely to come up against stiff opposition, however, as South Africa's transport system faces massive challenges such as a 75 billion rand (10.4 billion U. S. dollar) road maintenance backlog and a creaking passenger rail system.

Freight rail also has to be made more efficient to regain market share lost to road hauliers, which are contributing to the rapid decline of road infrastructure.

Ndebele said a fast link between Durban and Johannesburg would encourage the move from road to rail on what was the country's busiest, most congested route.

The project would catapult South Africa's rail system into the modern age of hi-tech transport, which Ndebele said was the most efficient mass mover of people.

A similar link between Johannesburg and Cape Town would also be explored.

At the same media briefing South African deputy transport minister Jeremy Cronin was questioned about the road-maintenance backlog. He said that a study by the South African National Road Agency had determined that a "frightening" 80 percent of provincial and local roads had passed the 20-year life span for which they were designed.

Most municipalities did not check on the state of their roads, he said.

Ndebele has proposed a road infrastructure maintenance fund, which would require provincial and local governments to dedicate a certain percentage of their budgets to maintenance, which was usually sacrificed when budgets came under pressure.

"The current state of our road infrastructure, particularly in provinces and municipalities, is reflective of lack of sustained investment in maintenance over many years," Ndebele said.

"We will develop a ring-fencing mechanism, which will set aside funds earmarked for maintenance. A passenger rail investment plan will ramp up investment in rail infrastructure and rolling stock."



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