LifeStyle & Health

Gautrain Rapid Rail Integrated Network causes anxiety to residents

The Afrikaans word moltrein evokes images of a burrowing mole. Fears of bigger moles – Gautrain’s tunnel-boring machine and the high-speed train itself – have been keeping northern Johannesburg residents awake.

As plans for phase one of the Gautrain Rapid Rail Integrated Network take shape, many residents feel their homes, indeed their lifestyles, are under threat.

They fear their foundations will be rattled. Houses “will be permanently devalued and subject to blasting during construction and permanent noise from the train thereafter”.

The envisaged track doesn’t stay underground. For example, it emerges from the surface in Hurlingham, “about 200m from the Braamfontein Spruit, and continues as a viaduct (above ground) across the spruit”.

This will ruin many properties, say residents. Similar fears have been voiced by communities along the proposed route from Sandton Gautrain station to Cosmo City, via a new station in Randburg.

This led to a meeting on Monday between elected provincial and city public representatives and senior Gauteng Management Agency officials, including chief executive officer William Dachs.

It would be comforting to say we chatted to the CEO and everything’s sorted, nothing to worry about. But as Oscar Wilde said: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Gautrain is a complex, detailed and emotive topic.

The route being presented is not the same as earlier versions in this process, which was set in motion by the provincial MEC in 2018.

The route now favoured is the sixth alternative after various options were scored qualitatively under headings such as “conservation statutes”, “water areas” (wetlands), “threatened ecosystems” (endangered), “ridges” (koppies) and land cover.

Qualitatively assessed criteria and rankings are wide open to challenge, either in court or public participation sessions.

There will be opportunities for further input, despite last week’s deadline for submissions. We were told the 16 August deadline applied only to this stage in the process – whatever that means.

There will be several more steps, more studies and “lots of engagement to come”, said Dachs. He would not commit to timelines for the completion of phase one but it will take several years.

And there is still room for change, within limits. The team is reluctant to budge from a 400m wide corridor. On circulated maps, the centre of the corridor is the red line marking the latest route option. Two questions I asked were not satisfactorily answered.

First, aside from the greater expense of tunnelling, why can the controversial sections above ground in established suburbs not run underground?

Second, why was the shortest direct route from Sandton to Randburg not taken? Why in the latest iteration is there a deviation from this path, which now runs through three suburbs in my ward? We were told alternative six was chosen not because it is perfect, but because it offers the “least impact” when weighed against others.

Having been told the criteria, we still need to know how they were weighted so that this, too, can be challenged if needs be.

The train of public participation has not left the station. Get on board. Have your say. Stand by for further announcements. Submit comments to [email protected], for attention: project manager GRRIN Extension Project

ALSO READ: Gautrain bosses bombarded with on proposed route expansion

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