A new 530-seater luxury train is ready to take to the rails from Soweto next week.

The R2-million Soweto Express, as the train will be known, is aimed at affluent professionals who shun Metrorail’s usually crowded coaches.

The launch of the service was to have been earlier this year to coincide with the start of the construction of the Gautrain rapid-rail link at Park station.

However, this was delayed because “we wanted to make sure that once it starts running, the new train will be a truly express service”, according to Pule Mabe, spokesperson for the SA Rail Commuter Corporation, which operates Metrorail services.

He confirmed yesterday that the first train would start out on Tuesday morning.

It will offer on-board service such Internet access, free newspapers, and refreshments served by uniformed attendants.

Passengers can also expect to be protected by professional security personnel manning the upgraded and attractive coaches.

The express train will have its own ticket sale points and boarding entrances.

Transport Minister Jeff Radebe and SARCC chief executive Lucky Montana are expected to officially launch the service on Monday.

The rapid eight-coach Soweto Express will start from Naledi station each morning, stopping at Ikhwezi and Dube stations before proceeding to Park station.

Plans are under way to have park-and-ride facilities in designated areas and to have Metrobus buses ferry passengers for a small fee from Park station to destinations around the city.

An upbeat Mabe said the train was long overdue for commuters between Soweto and the city centre.

“This is what people have been waiting for.

“This will be a world-class train service, where people can plug in their laptops and surf the Internet, or read newspapers while sipping coffee,” he said.

Soweto stations had been upgraded to provide extra parking bays for passengers.

While train fares and running times are yet to be confirmed, it is believed it will cost around R300 a month.

This is about R212 more than the R88 commuters now pay on a train from Naledi to the Joburg CBD.

However, said Mabe, they were negotiating with big corporates to offer discounts for group tickets.

If the Soweto Express proves successful, Metrorail would be looking at a national programme to roll out the project to other regions.

The earliest train each day from Soweto will leave Naledi at 5.30am and arrive at Park station at 6.15 am. The second will reach the city at 7am and another one at 8.15am.

Collen Msibi, spokesperson for Radebe, welcomed the launch of the Soweto Express.

“We hope it will help to reduce traffic congestion between Soweto and Johannesburg,” he said, challenging motorists to start using the new service.

When plans to launch the train were first announced, Alfred Nhlapo, the spokesperson for the Gauteng Public Transport, Roads and Works Department, was quoted as saying that Metrorail was fulfilling a commitment to improve the quality of public transport.

“Operators of the public transport system are now setting up an agenda to take commuters seriously.

“The Soweto Express is a better deal for the previously disadvantaged community and will definitely enhance the provincial government’s plans to encourage more people to use public transport,” Nhlapo added.

AUTHOR: Lebogang Seale
DATED: 28th June 2007