Finding your way around an unfamiliar city can be daunting but a new fast train from Johannesburg’s airport
has made it a pleasure, writes Diana Streak.
Like much of South Africa, Johannesburg is a city of contradictions, and perhaps one of the starkest is its public transport. As the world’s largest city not situated on a river, lake or ocean, it relies on a sprawling network of roads and rail, although the lack of infrastructure means it’s geared to private motorists. Commuter trains and thousands of minibus taxis ferry workers from outlying black townships into the business centres.
For tourists arriving at OR Tambo International Airport, there are only two options; hire a car or take the Gautrain.
I first took the rapid rail Gautrain soon after the first phase was opened in 2010 and still have my original launch edition card. I must confess when a friend suggested I take a train in Johannesburg I was hugely sceptical. After all, this was a huge city of five million people with crime statistics as high as its skyscrapers. But I bit the bullet and was blown away by the experience. The station is part of the modern airport and easily accessible. It seemed like stepping into some Swiss efficiency project. It’s clean, safe and extremely convenient. A truly first-world facility in a country in which where poverty is never far from sight and the cost of catching the Gautrain could, for some, be half a day’s wages.
The Gautrain, so named after the province of Gauteng (formerly part of the Transvaal Province), runs from OR Tambo to Sandton, Johannesburg’s wealthiest suburb, where most international tourists would be based, in just 15 minutes. The second phase, opened in 2012, linked Johannesburg to Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, and has stops in the trendy suburb of Rosebank, Marlboro, Midrand, and the satellite city of Centurion (formerly Lyttelton and then Verwoerdburg).
Commuters have to buy a Gautrain Gold Card which they then load with however much travel they need. Fares vary from ZAR142 to 164 (about A$14-16) and the contactless smart card is tapped onto the sophisticated readers at the station entrances. The stations have very helpful staff who will either sell you a ticket or show you how to buy one from a vending machine.
The trains are carpeted with beautifully upholstered seats and are remarkably clean. Eating and drinking is forbidden and strictly policed. A friend who chews nicotine gum, years after stopping smoking, was apprehended by a security guard and told to get rid of it before he got on the train. Singapore anyone?
The 15 rules in signs throughout the carriages may seem a bit excessive but the authorities have left nothing to chance.
How about this one? “No helmets, hoodies, balaclavas and no soiled clothes permitted.” Soiled clothes?
And a bit like the quiet carriages in some European trains. “No disturbance of the peace. (No loud music, shouting or similar disturbances.)”
A few other choice rules:
- No begging, loitering, gambling allowed.
- No fire arms or dangerous weapons allowed. All fire arms and weapons to be handed in to the security office for safe-keeping.
- No informal trading.
It may seem over the top, but it makes using the Gautrain an increasingly popular choice for local business commuters, and a pleasure for those unfamiliar with Johannesburg. TTW
Diana Streak travelled to South Africa at her own expense. More information at www.gautrain.co.za. Photos © Diana Streak.