Skip to content
March 30th, 2016

South Africa’s Gautrain: rail travel from Pretoria to Johannesburg

As one of the solutions to South Africa’s infrastructure problems, Gautrain – the rapid rail link between the nation’s capital, commercial centre, and main airport – was central to the national transport strategy. From the 1998 pre-feasibility study to the 2012 opening was a long and difficult journey, taking in technical and cost-benefit analyses, the creation of a public-private partnership, negative publicity, challenges in the courts, and complex design and construction.

The initiative

In February 2000, Mbhazima Shilowa, the premier of Gauteng province (formerly part of the pre-apartheid Transvaal province), announced the plan for a new rail link connecting Pretoria, Johannesburg and Johannesburg International Airport (JIA). As the economy had expanded, traffic volumes had been growing at roughly seven percent per annum for more than a decade.

It was one of 10 Spatial Development Initiatives (SDIs) of the Gauteng government, designed to:

  • Demonstrate the government's commitment to the promotion of public transport (as evident in the National Land Transport Transition Act, 2000).
  • Move towards an integrated transport system that included public transport.
  • Attract motorists to the railways and help alleviate congestion on the roads, particularly along the Pretoria to JIA corridor.
  • Stimulate economic growth, development and job creation.
  • Promote business tourism by means of the link between JIA and Sandton.
  • Contribute to urban restructuring by shortening travel distances and improving city sustainability.

An initial Inception Report was published in June 2000. The second phase of the project dealt with the system planning, needs assessment, and costs estimate. The South African cabinet approved Gautrain construction in 2005, and the necessary federal funding was announced in the 2006 budget. Gautrain was developed as a public-private partnership (PPP) project, involving private sector funding, consultancy and construction. The formal end of construction came in 2012.

The challenge

At the turn of the century, South Africa’s infrastructure was crumbling, unable to keep pace with and support the country’s economic growth. For example, there was no reliable and rapid connection by road or rail between Johannesburg, the country’s main commercial centre, and Pretoria, the nation’s capital.

The public impact

By March 2015, the Gautrain had largely met its objectives:

  • There were nearly 60,000 individual journeys on the Gautrain per day and the number of journeys exceeded 1.4 million per month.
  • It is estimated to have replaced about 21,300 daily car trips. Commuters opting to use Gautrain instead of driving had reduced their carbon footprint by 52 percent per trip.
  • More than 4,600 local jobs had been created and retained, and more than 16,100 direct and indirect jobs had been created from 2000 to 2015.

Stakeholder engagement

The Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) has important relations with its government stakeholders. The project was initiated by the Gauteng premier and had strong support from the federal and provincial governments. There were other provincial departments associated with non-transport issues, for example, the Gauteng Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Environment and Land Affairs (GDACEL) was the authorising department of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), while there was engagement from federal actors such as the Department of Transport, the Ministry of Finance and the Auditor General. The other internal stakeholders included the Gautrain employees and passengers.

As a PPP, the Gautrain involved relations with the private investors engaged in the funding, and external stakeholders engaged in construction:

  • Consortia of engineering and railway consultants.
  • Power suppliers.
  • The Bombela Concession Company (Pty) Ltd, which has the concession for the construction, operation and maintenance of the Gautrain until 2020.

The funding was provided by the following sources:

  • Federal and provincial institutions.
  • Institutional investors (especially pension funds).
  • Development finance institutions, such as the African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank, including the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
  • Infrastructure funds.
  • Banks, via the capital markets and debt markets.

Political commitment

There has been strong political support from the government, and the project was funded through:

  • The federal Division of Revenue Act, 2008 (DoRA), the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link Grant being set out in Part 4.
  • The provincial Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF).

In 2006, federal funding of SAR7.1 billion was earmarked for the Gautrain project's construction phases during the minister of finance's budget. The Department of Transport supported the GMA and the Gauteng Transport, Roads and Works.

Public confidence

During the planning stage there was little confidence in the prospect of the Gautrain. “When the cabinet approved Gautrain in 2005, the project faced severe criticism from politicians, media and members of the public. The project was criticised for its multibillion rand budget, and there was a widespread view that the funding should have been allocated to existing public transport and invested in other development projects to alleviate poverty and provide essential social services. Strongly negative media content in the latter half of 2002 expressed opposition to the project and reflected negative public perceptions." [1]

Nearly 700 public meetings were held during the EIA in 2002, all of which were negative. The severe criticism by ward councillors attending these meetings, as well as subsequent community liaison forums, further fuelled public anger and media criticism. There were also five court cases brought against the building of Gautrain by various residential pressure groups along the proposed route. Despite this initial resistance, Gautrain has proved popular and public confidence is now much stronger than in the planning stages.

Clarity of objectives

Gautrain’s national objectives were to reinforce South Africa’s national transport infrastructure and stimulate economic growth, development and job creation. Its local objectives were to attract motorists to the railways and help alleviate congestion on the roads, particularly along the Pretoria to JIA corridor, promote business tourism and contribute to the urban environment by shortening travel distances and improving city sustainability. Its specific aims were to connect the three ‘anchor stations’ (Johannesburg, JIA and Pretoria) and seven other stations along approximately 80 kilometres of railway at high speed.

Strength of evidence

Gautrain project was extensively evaluated, as many alternatives were tested and a number of consortia of experienced consultants. Forecasts were made to develop good understanding of the actors, and the project was divided into phases to develop better understanding of the impacts and plan the project accordingly. Examples of the gathering of evidence were:

  • The June 2000 Inception Report.
  • The report to the South African cabinet in 2001 with estimated daily total passenger numbers, income, cost, technical analysis, and the proposed route
  • Possible sites in the Centurion area were investigated for the maintenance depot, and bidders were asked if to suggest an alternative sites.
  • “A number of suggestions were received from Interested and Affected Parties (I&APs) regarding route alignment alternatives during the public participation process for the EIA from January to July 2002. The Gautrain technical team evaluated these suggested alternatives in order to establish how they compared with the reference route and whether they were technically, financially and/or economically feasible.” [2]


There was exhaustive exploration of Gautrain's environmental, financial, social and technical feasibility:

  • The 1998-99 pre-feasibility study, undertaken in parallel with the national 25-year Integrated Transport Master Plan.
  • The cost-benefit and technical analyses in the 2000 Inception Report and the 2001 report to the cabinet, addressing issues such as the impact on job creation and overall economic growth.
  • The 2002 EIA.
  • The public consultation period (although this was problematic).


The project had strong management and where each division was assigned clear responsibilities. The management structure included the provincial steering committees, the main decision-making body, and the Gautrain Project team.  The Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) team was chaired by the former CEO of the Gauteng Department of Public Transport, Roads and Works, Jack van der Merwe, who was also head of the Provincial PPP unit. It also had senior officials from the Gauteng Department of Roads and Transport and the Department of Finance and Economic Affairs, a representative from the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa and also technical, financial, legal, socioeconomic development, and communications consultants.


There are numerous measuring tools to monitor the activities and performance against different parameters, such as:

  • Job creation, including the deployment of women in management roles and the employment of disadvantaged individuals, ratified by the Independent Socio-Economic Monitor.
  • Project costs and construction against schedule.
  • Rail passenger capacity and usage.
  • The speed and reliability of Gautrain journeys.


There was a clear cooperation and close collaboration between the GMA and the other stakeholders in the planning, funding, construction and the eventual running of Gautrain. The federal and provincial bodies (see Strength of evidence) were convinced of the value of the project and worked together to achieve it. The private sector PPP participants also collaborated in all the technical and financial aspects: e.g., pension funds and banks in the investment, and the concessionaire and engineering consortia on the construction. NGOs – principally the AfDB and the World Bank – were also involved in the funding.

The Public Impact Fundamentals - A framework for successful policy

This case study has been assessed using the Public Impact Fundamentals, a simple framework and practical tool to help you assess your public policies and ensure the three fundamentals - Legitimacy, Policy and Action are embedded in them.

Learn more about the Fundamentals and how you can use them to access your own policies and initiatives.

Explore the Fundamentals