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Last Updated: Friday, 9 December 2005, 12:01 GMT
SA approves controversial train
Graphic of Gautrain
Critics say the Gautrain will serve only an elite group of passengers
South Africa's cabinet has given its blessing to the controversial $3bn Gautrain transport project.

Construction is now expected to start in January 2006.

The Gautrain will carry passengers between the main commercial city of Johannesburg, its airport, and the national capital, Pretoria.

Promoters of the project say it will cut traffic and create jobs. Critics say the cost is excessive and the train will serve only a small elite.

"National government wishes to reiterate its support for the project, including matters such as an integrated ticketing system; inclusive feeder network comprising buses, taxis and rail; and where possible, integration of Gautrain with [existing rail service] Metrorail," the cabinet said in a statement after a meeting on Thursday.

The Gauteng provincial government, which is keen to push ahead with the project, welcomed the announcement.

South African commuters run to board a train
The existing train service is in need of investment

"Cabinet's statement takes the nation a further decisive step in the direction of being able to reap the full benefits of Gautrain in terms of economic development, investor confidence, public transport transformation, and the success of the [2010 Football] World Cup," provincial officials said in a statement.

Parliament's portfolio committee on transport expressed doubts about spending $20bn rand ($3bn) of government money on the Gautrain when the existing public transport system is in a bad state or repair.

South Africa's annual transport budget is roughly one-third of the sum budgeted for the Gautrain.

Gauteng's government has argued that with roads in the province increasingly congested, urgent action is needed to encourage car drivers to switch to public transport.

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