A three-quarters of a trillion rand transport master plan, which includes linking Johannesburg to Durban and Polokwane via rapid train networks, was presented to Parliament by the Transport Department on Tuesday.
The plan's project manager, Lanfranc Situma, told the Portfolio Committee for Transport, that the department needed urgent approval from Members of Parliament (MPs) so that the Cabinet-initiated National Transport Master Plan (Natmap) could "get moving".
"We are not saying that we are going to build a train tomorrow. We are saying that we want to have to prepare a project document that will be able complete for funding," Situma said.
Natmap transport planning consultant Paul Lombard recommended to the committee that studies be done on whether it was feasible to extend the Gautrain project to the Durban-Johannesburg and Pretoria-Polokwane lines.
"We must ask if can we afford it and how affordable will it be to passengers and the government," Lombard said.
He recommended the immediate institution of a rail infrastructure-owning entity, similar to Acsa, that would "eventually absorb" the country's entire network and "allow existing freight and passenger agencies to operate on the network".
The plan, which includes expanding the port of Saldhana, doubling the Huguenot tunnel outside Paarl and expanding the port of Cape Town as other vital projects, would cost roughly R750-billion should it be launched today, financial project manager, Themba September, told Sapa.
He said that part of the plan was to form partnerships with the private sector to help fund the project and lower the burden to taxpayers.
"Overall, between now and 2050, the cost of the project will be around R750-billion," he said.
"We would hope to fund a large part of the project through private public partnerships. We would like to find the right ratio of ownership between the private and public sector."
September could not speculate on a start date for the project, but said it was important that South Africa "wasn't caught napping".
"Someone at some point has to make a hard, cold decision on this," he said.
Situma told MPs that South Africa could qualify for foreign funding for the rail project as it had voluntarily agreed to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 46%.
"If you build a railway or a train, you are going to be cutting down the emissions from the road because there will be fewer vehicles emitting carbon on the roads.
"Because of that, we will qualify for funding which other people are getting. That money is readily available."
The Natmap was initiated by Cabinet in 2007 to develop and establish a multimodal, transportation system to meet South Africa's transport needs up to 2050.
It was drawn up through the Transport Department by consulting engineering company SSI Engineering and environmental consultants Africon and Ingerop South Africa. It cost R64-million.