Building high-speed railways between Johannesburg, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy, and other major South African cities, was again mooted as a viable solution to some of the country’s transport problems.

Ian Thoms, an international expert in mass transit systems, suggested on Wednesday that the South African government should “seriously consider” integrating high-speed railways into its transport plans.

Speaking at the annual general meeting of ITS South Africa, in Pretoria, he highlighted the links between Johannesburg and Durban, and Johannesburg and Cape Town, as the routes likely to attract such rail links, should they be proven feasible to build and operate.

Last year, the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government unveiled plans to construct a high-speed railway between Durban and Johannesburg, saying that the Department of Transport had agreed “in principle” to such a project.

The viability of such a link, which would shorten the journey between Durban and Johannesburg to three hours, had been much debated since the announcement last September.

Some industry watchers argued that the revenue that the high-speed rail link would generate would not validate the capital required for the development. A high-speed railway between the two cities could cost in the order of R30-billion.

Nevertheless, Thoms said that railways would have to become the “backbone” of South Africa’s transport system.