Gautrain still has water

At places in the Gautrain tunnel there is four times the water agreed to with the contractor.

This could shorten the life of the train system and kill off plants in the environment.

The problem persists even after the opening of the tunnel between Park Station and Rosebank was postponed for months for additional waterproofing.

Jack van der Merwe, chief executive of the Gautrain Management Agency, was upset after the Bombela concession group last week took journalists on a train ride through the part of the tunnel involved and indicated that it could open within days.

Throughout, Bombela has emphasised that the system has been designed to drain water and the current amount of water is within the design specification. The impression was created that regulatory approval for the opening was merely a formality.

But Van der Merwe says the amount of water exceeds the 10 litres/minute/10 metres agreed to in the contract – in places there is four times as much water.

“This tunnel was built to last 100 years, and Bombela has a contract to manage the system for 15 years,” says Van der Merwe.

But excessive water exerts pressure on the pumps and this can shorten their lives. It would furthermore be stupid to expose the train system’s sophisticated electronic equipment unnecessarily to damp conditions, says Van der Merwe.

What is more, there is an environmental risk. Van der Merwe says if too much water drains into the Gautrain tunnel, the water table could quickly drop, harming the vegetation above the tunnel. There are at least three golf courses in the environment that could suffer, which would expose the Gautrain Management Agency to claims.

Van der Merwe says that, depending on the soil formation, which varies greatly, this could even lead to soil instability – for instance where there is clay.

Bombela totally disagrees and on Thursday told Sake24 that it reckoned it had done what it was contractually expected to do. It said there was a difference in interpretation of the tunnel specifications.

Both parties agree that the water holds no threat for the trains.

Van der Merwe says he asked Bombela to produce a plan to combat the problem.

If the two parties cannot agree, they will probably take the dispute to the court of arbitration.

In his view the work done to date has not been in vain. It is simply incomplete. So far work has been done on the tunnel floor and additional concrete added. Now they must proceed with the work on the walls.

This can be done after hours and the rest of the route can then be opened, he says.

The opening will provide considerable relief to Bombela, which has to repay its financiers but has so far been unable to derive revenue from the entire route. Completion is also expected to make it easier to put the complete bus system into operation.

The Gautrain Management Agency’s performance rating for Bombela, in terms of which the concession holder is penalised if it cannot maintain specific standards, could then also come into play.

Murray & Roberts shareholders, who have a big stake in Bombela Civils Joint Venture, which has had to bear the cost of the additional waterproofing, will be holding their breaths that the matter is resolved in the company’s favour.

The Gautrain problems, including the additional cost of waterproofing for the tunnel, have contributed to Murray & Roberts finding itself in the red.

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