During the early weeks of 2013, The SA-Mag looked at the work already underway on South Africa’s railways as the need for upgraded infrastructure and stock intensified. Primarily, this work is overseen by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA).
At the time of writing, PRASA’s fleet continues to go through a transition period right now which has been brought about by the age of existing rolling stock – a third of which faces imminent retirement in the next couple of years, as coaches reach the end of their economic lives. On average, the commuter fleet has a shelf life of approximately 42 years.
PRASA was formally established in December 2008, when the President signed the Legal Succession Act into law. This completed the consolidation of the various entities (Metrorail, Autopax, Shosholoza Meyl and Intersite) into PRASA from what were the South African Rail Commuter Corporation and Transnet. Today, PRASA operates with a work force of 17,000 employees, 76 per cent of whom are employed by Metrorail.
As the programme to replace ageing stock continues to gather momentum, last October came the news that PRASA and Gibela (a joint venture led by Alstom) had signed an historic agreement for the supply of modern commuter trains in South Africa.
The agreement covered the provision of 600 passenger trains, comprising of 3,600 individual coaches, which are scheduled for delivery between 2015 and 2025. The details of the agreement indicated that the contract is worth in the region of R51 billion and will include the construction of a local manufacturing facility.
Furthermore, Gibela is set to provide technical support and supply of spare parts over an 18-year period. This project is one of the biggest in rail transport worldwide and is the largest contract ever signed in Alstom’s history. The contract was signed by PRASA Group CEO, Lucky Montana, Alstom Chairman and CEO Patrick Kron, and Henri Poupart-Lafarge, President of Alstom Transport.
Whilst the delivery of the new stock is going to take time, the contract does at least underline PRASA’s activities as it strives to revitalise the nation’s rail services, whilst also creating jobs and providing a safe, reliable and efficient public transport system.
Part of the challenge has been to meet rising commuter demand – as the South African Government has looked to rejuvenate inner city areas and townships through infrastructure upgrades, the number of passengers has grown.
In response to this challenge, in 2010 the Government launched its programme with PRASA, to replace the ageing suburban trains in service in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, with 1 200 electric trains over a period of 20 years.
As the agreement between PRASA and Gibela was made official in October, Lucky Montana said, “The PRASA fleet renewal programme is the catalyst for the transformation of Metrorail services and public transport in South Africa as a whole. It is the beginning of the roll-out of government’s comprehensive rail programme. While the urgent challenge to improve passenger services remains primary, the rolling stock programme has been designed to achieve government’s objectives of developing skills, creating jobs and delivering quality services to citizens.”
Meanwhile Poupart-Lafarge stated: “Alstom is proud to have been selected by PRASA for a project of this magnitude. We are fully committed to mobilising the best of our technology and expertise through our South African joint venture Gibela and we believe our trains will set a high standard in serving the interests of commuters.”
According to the agreement, PRASA will be supplied with X’Trapolis Mega, the new X’Trapolis train developed by Alstom to fit the 1.067 metre gauge in South Africa. The train can travel at speeds of up to 120 kilometres per hour with the ability to be upgraded to 160 kilometres per hour.
The single-deck trains will comprise of 6 cars and will have the capacity to carry in excess of 1,300 passengers. The modular nature of the X’Trapolis will provide PRASA with greater flexibility to add or reduce the number of cars depending on demand.
The design will also give PRASA’s fleet a modern feel as each train will be air conditioned and will containergonomic seats, real-time on-board information, Wi-Fi internet access and a combination of direct and indirect lighting to increase the feeling of space.
Looking at the bigger picture, PRASA’s rolling stock programme aims to procure approximately 7,224 new rolling stock with a projected investment of R123 billion over 20 years. The procurement of the rolling stock is being done in two phases, with the October agreement heralding the start of the first phase.
The agreement will create jobs, with Gibela charged with constructing a manufacturing site in Ekurhuleni, which will eventually be the centre for manufacturing rolling stock for PRASA. It is believed that the project will lead to 1,500 direct jobs in the local factory and a further 33,000 indirect jobs over the initial 10 year period.
Additionally, this site will contain an engineering centre and a training facility. At the time of writing, it has been reported that construction will begin in early 2014 with the factory due to start production next year.
PRASA’s challenge is borne out of necessity and is the legacy of previous years of neglect; now the agency is very much looking to build a lasting legacy that delivers not only the most modern rail system on the Continent, but creates jobs and prosperity too.