DURBAN to Johannesburg in just more than an hour by high-speed train could be a reality by 2030, discussions with China's CSR Corporation at the Rail Africa exhibition and conference revealed yesterday.

That means that like commuters between London and northern France, who can enjoy the beach in the evenings after a tough day at the office, South Africans could work in Gauteng and live in KwaZulu-Natal, reversing the migration pattern of people leaving the coastal province to live in the inland province. The CRH380A train, which is designed to operate at 380km/h, has already achieved a speed of 416,6km/h on the Shanghai-Hangzhou Intercity High Speed Railway, while a next generation CSR prototype has already achieved 500km/h.

CSR has supplied 354 train sets to date, which comprise 2832 cars, out of an order of 460 sets in China. Now it is looking to expand its service to other countries, SA included.

The Department of Transport has proposed a high-speed rail service linking Johannesburg and Durban in line with other countries such as China, France, Germany, Italy, Taiwan, and the UK.

The world speed record for conventional high-speed rail is held by the V150, a special version of France's TGV, which reached 574km/h on a test run. The record for magnetic levitation (maglev) trains is held by the Japanese experimental MLX01 at 581km/h.

The Gautrain, which covers the distance between Rosebank and Pretoria in 30 minutes at a relatively sedate operational top speed of less than 200km/h, has already transported 10-million passengers between June 2010 and June this year, showing acceptance of this type of transport among commuters.

High-speed rail travel was pioneered in Japan. Just as in SA, one of the spurs was the hosting of an international sports event: the Tokyo 1964 Olympics and, in SA, the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

In October 1964, the Shinkansen, known as the Bullet Train in English, started operating between Tokyo and Osaka, a distance of 515km, which is close to the distance between Rosebank in Johannesburg and Durban's beach front.

On Shinkansen, not a single passenger has been killed in derailments or collisions, even though it has transported the equivalent of the world's population of nearly 7-billion over the past 48 years.

In May last year, Japan approved the construction of the first 286km of the Chuo Shinkansen maglev line, which will have an operating speed of 505km/h and will link Tokyo and Nagoya by 2027.

The plan is to link it with Osaka by 2045. The maglev line would mean that the Tokyo to Osaka journey could be completed in just more than an hour compared with the current two and a half hours.

preussh@bdfm.co.za