Gibela Transport, a joint venture 61 percent owned by French company Alstom, has begun manufacturing the 600 passenger trains, comprising 3 600 coaches, which are set to revitalise South African rail transport, hoping to give a major boost to the economy as part of ongoing renewal efforts in SA rail infrastructure.
The company signed the US$5.1 billion (R51 billion) contract to supply the trains – the largest deal ever struck by Alstom, and one of the biggest in rail transport worldwide – with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) in last October.
Gibela’s 10-year contract represents the first phase of a 20-year fleet renewal programme in which Prasa will procure approximately 7 224 new rolling stock with a projected investment of R123 billion.
Unveiling the final design of the new trains in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said the project had reached financial close, and that the first of the trains would be running on South African railway tracks towards the end of 2015.
“Today marks yet another milestone in the long journey […] of transforming and modernising our passenger rail system,” Peters said.
The first 20 trains are currently being manufactured at Alstom’s plant in Lapa, Brazil, with the remaining 580 to be built at a future plant near Nigel, east of Johannesburg. Gibela will spend R1 billion on the 600.000 squaremetre manufacturing facility, which will incorporate an engineering centre and training facility.
Peters said that more than 500 South African technicians, engineers and other professionals would be trained in the skills required to build and deliver the new trains.
Prasa Group CEO Lucky Montana said Gibela would deliver the 3600 coaches between 2015 and 2025, while providing maintenance and technical support and supplying spares from 2015 through 2033. However, the long-overdue renewal project has witnessed various set-backs in the past, and stakeholders are somewhat hesitant to trust the projected timelines.
Around 33000 direct and indirect jobs are planned to be created in this process, Montana said, while 30 percent of ownership would be set aside for black empowerment (BEE) partners.
“These are the beautiful trains for all South Africans,” Montana said at the unveiling event.
“It is a modern train which will restore confidence on public transport in the country.”