S.Africa's first high-speed train to open ahead of World Cup

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The Independent Travel

The Gautrain, Africa's first high-speed rail line, will launch on June 8 in South Africa three days before the opening match of the 2010 World Cup, the developers said Friday.

French construction giant Bouygues said the train's first segment, linking OR Tambo International Airport and the posh Johannesburg suburb of Sandton, will open in time for the June 11 kick-off of Africa's first World Cup.

"(The segment) will be handed over on June 8, three weeks ahead of our original schedule," said Christian Gazaignes, Bouygues' executive director.

When finished in mid-2011, the 80-kilometre regional express train will link the capital of Pretoria with national economic hub Johannesburg.

An international consortium that includes Bouygues, Canadian firm Bombardier and two South African companies began construction on the 160-kilometre-an-hour (99-mile-an-hour) maximum rail line in 2006.

The developers have worked "doubly hard" to finish the first section before the World Cup, said Charles-Etienne Perrier, project director for Bouygues.

For 100 rands (13 dollars, 10 euros), World Cup visitors will be able to ride the 15 kilometres from the airport to the Sandton hotel district in less than 15 minutes.

"It's going to give the country a beautiful image of modernity," said Laurence Leblanc, international director of RATP Dev, a subsidiary of French group RATP, the company awarded a 15-year concession to operate the train.

South African transportation officials plan for the 3.2-million-dollar Gautrain to form the backbone of a new public transport network that will take traffic off the notoriously congested Johannesburg-Pretoria highway.