Naledi Rail Engineering: Grasping Fresh Opportunities through Transformation

The combination of transformation and infrastructure development are creating a landscape of opportunity for a new generation of entrepreneurs in South Africa.

One such venture is Naledi Rail Engineering, established in June 2008, as a 100 per cent Black owned and controlled company. The company was formed with the express goal to become the first, largest and most successful Black Economic Empowered rolling stock refurbishing company in South Africa. Railway engineering was and has remained one of the least accessible industries for black entrepreneurs.

Six years on, the company is thriving and geared up for new opportunities in an environment which has seen the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) commit vast capital sums on new stock.

The company’s focus on empowerment aims to not only train and develop previously economically disadvantaged individuals, but also gives Naledi Rail Engineering a strategically strong position from which to tender for new work.

“Our empowerment model focuses on developing and nurturing Black intellectual capital to ensure continued predominance of Black management within the company. This will include tapping into top Black graduates and placing them alongside experienced qualified technicians as on-site mentors.

“The founding directors hail from diverse skills backgrounds, having occupied senior management positions, from executive level down to operations management. The extensive empowerment credentials of the directors have enabled them to foster strong relationships with stakeholders in national and provincial government, municipalities and leading parastatals,” states the company website.

thumbThe company’s landmark breakthrough moment came in 2007 when it was awarded its first contract from SARCC and completed its first coach midway through the following year, as the website recalls:

At the time the vision was to provide the railway industry with an alternative local source of railway engineering expertise.

“It soon became evident that the South African Railway Industry seriously lacked competition in the refurbishing of the rolling stock market segment. Repair procedures applied and materials used had virtually remained the same for over 30 years. In 2008 the company entered the refurbishment arena and successfully repaired its first 5M2A motor coaches and plain trailers during the first year for SARCC (SA Rail Commuter Corporation) now PRASA.”

Today the business aims to provide value added activities across a wide range of operations related to both freight and passenger services. These include rolling stock refurbishment, infrastructure management, electrification, rolling stock design, quality control systems and wheel profiling.

Quality control is of course an absolute imperative in an industry so reliant on health and safety. To that end, the company operates to SABS ISO 9001:2008 standards and is fully equipped with sand blasting and spray booths which accommodate a full coach; fully equipped bogie overhaul and electronic equipment repair and testing facilities.

“Such immediate and public confirmation of our quality of skills and services complements our promise of excellent customer service, service delivery and competitive pricing, and supports our vision of becoming the leading rail engineering services company in Southern Africa,” states the website.

“Our ISO philosophy is one of ‘Zero Defects.’ We always aim to do every job right first time by conforming to all requirements, even at the smallest level.

“Our Tier 1 quality manual represents NRE’s commitment to quality and the requirements of ISO 9001:2008, as well as reflecting our philosophy regarding quality on all present and future services. It is also the vehicle for change and regular improvement of the company’s procedural system, because we understand that nothing stands still, and everything can be improved upon,” it continues.

The company reports that it has already repaired in excess of 100 motor coaches and plain trailers for PRASA and has been involved in a number of projects, as the website explains:

“PRASA operates a fleet of electric locomotives for Shosholoza Meyl, a long haul (city to city) passenger service. These locomotives are past their serviceable life and have been poorly maintained in the past and the additional constraint of obsolete systems and parts make them extremely difficult and costly to maintain resulting in a drop in service level. Naledi will be in charge of a major improvement in reliability and maintainability by upgrading the control and propulsion system of a first batch of 6 electric locomotives (6E type).

“The proposal is to improve the efficiency of the Sholoza Meyl coaches by modernising at an affordable cost the interiors giving Prasa and passengers a new modern efficient way to travel in South Africa.

“PRASA also operates a fleet of long distance passenger trains (city to city) passenger service. These passenger coaches require a high modernisation programme to make them more attractive to passengers. Naledi will be in charge of a major improvement of the interiors by upgrading the seating arrangement, the lighting, all interior equipments including modernisation of the toilet system by installing a new modern efficient vacuum toilet systems

“The proposal is to replace the obsolete Traction Drives by a new Power Electronic Static choppers and inverter 100 per cent proudly made in South Africa. Direct benefit is that the locomotive will be able to operate from Johannesburg to Cape Town without stops.” (845 words)

The role of partnership is key to Naledi’s success and the company forms a part of the international Dudula Rail Company, which also comprises Swiss-based Stadler Rail and power and automation technologies solutions company ABB South Africa – and which bid for PRASA’s  R123 million rolling stock fleet renewal programme in 2012.

The fleet renewal programme is aimed at the procurement of 7,224 new commuter coaches over 20 years and whilst Dudula was unsuccessful, the importance of collaboration cannot be underestimated.

Wahed Rasool, CEO at Naledi Rail Engineering commented that while a resistance to change may be evident among some South Africans, the Prasa fleet renewal programme will hold economic and social advantages for the population.

“It is vital to teach people about the benefits of the fleet renewal programme in South Africa so that they can be informed and excited,” he stated.

With expansion into Durban reported to be imminent on the company website, there remain plenty of reasons for optimism for Naledi Rail Engineering; “We also intend to develop our share of the freight rail market, as well as cross border operations and expansion in our infrastructure projects,” the site adds.