Making quick work of its ten-year R51-billion contract to supply South Africa’s Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) with 600 trains, rail company Gibela has unveiled the first completed car body-shell at major shareholder Alstom’s Lapa manufacturing facility, in Sao Paulo, Brazil – some seven months after the landmark deal’s financial close.
The 9 t car body-shell, which was constructed using South African-imported carbon and stainless steel, was the metal “skeleton” of the railway vehicle and consisted of four primary parts – the underframe, two side walls, the roof and two train extremities, which were brought together in a jig before being welded together.
Gibela CEO Marc Granger told a visiting delegation of South African journalists at the Lapa plant on Wednesday that the scheduled completion of the first body-shell served as a significant milestone, as it was a vital precursor to the car’s fitting phase, which would see the installation of over 1 000 components.
This would include the fitment of electrical equipment, traction motors, bogies, cables, pipes, air conditioning, doors and interior finishes.
Meeting set targets, the completed train, dubbed the X’Trapolis Mega, was due to arrive in South Africa in November 2015 and would thereafter undergo a real-world testing and evaluation process by PRASA and Gibela to ensure that it was fit for purpose, before becoming the first train of PRASA’s new fleet to be put into operation in June 2016.
The X’Trapolis Mega would be able to travel at speeds of up to 120 km/h and would comprise up to six cars capable of carrying up to 1 300 passengers.
In terms of the ten-year deal that was set to accelerate the delivery of passenger trains to South Africa’s commuting public and replace the country’s ageing Metrorail fleet, the first 20 trains would be manufactured in Brazil, using certain components imported from South Africa, while the remaining 580 would be manufactured at a planned 700 000 m2 facility to be built in Dunnottar, Ekurhuleni.
Granger explained that the decision to manufacture the first 20 trains in Brazil was taken to accelerate the delivery of trains for priority corridors by 2017 and initiate a skills transfer programme that would see artisans and engineers receiving work experience at the Lapa facility before returning to South Africa to work at the Ekurhuleni plant.
He was emphatic that the mandated local content requirements of the train components would be strictly met, despite the first batch of trains being manufactured beyond South Africa’s borders.
“This contract stipulates a transfer of technology, which is not [a] first; we’ve done this successfully before, but the level of technology transfer that will result from this partnership has never before been so high.
“I want to emphasise that South Africa will be a part of the manufacturing of the first 20 trains, despite them not being made in the country. The long-term goal is for the bulk of the components of these trains to be produced in South Africa – that’s a strategic goal of ours and I’m happy to say it in front of PRASA,” he said during a meeting with representatives from the media and the rail agency.
He added that the sourcing of components, such as steel, from independent South Africa producers, further assisted in creating a productive industrial sector that was internationally competitive.
“We are helping the South African manufacturing sector to become internationally competitive, as we don’t have the room to pay a premium or accept [poor quality].
“There is no reason [why] these companies can’t compete on a global scale and this contract [which stipulates local content] is creating firms that compete price-wise. It also gives them a view of potential demand [from Gibela] further along in the contract,” he told Engineering News Online during a tour of the facility.
PRASA was “generally very happy” with the progress and commitments made by Gibela thus far, said PRASA strategic asset development group executive Nhlanhla Sebola, who believed the contract scope had already led to gains in the South African manufacturing industry.
“This [contract] gives true meaning to industrialisation and really leverages every rand that government spends. We’re already seeing the benefits to [component] manufacturers back home,” he told Engineering News Online on the sidelines of the tour.
Granger, meanwhile, outlined ambitious plans for the sprawling R1-billion Ekurhuleni-based train manufacturing plant, some 50% of which would be dedicated to local manufacturers of the required components.
Once at full production, the plant would produce around 60 trains a year within 30 months from the start of production in late 2016.
“We want this plant to revitalise the South African rail manufacturing industry and we’ll transfer [Alstom’s] know-how and develop a market. We will also help to develop the suppliers’ ability to deliver components,” he said.
There was ongoing interaction and project coordination between Gibela, the City of Ekurhuleni and associated engineering companies over development of the plant, but construction was due to start in March next year, with the first phase of the plant operational by late 2016.
Thereafter, the first train manufactured at the South African facility would be delivered to PRASA by June 2017.
“Even though [the timelines] are challenging, we have a plan in place and I see no reason to change these commitments. If only seven months after reaching financial close of the deal we have already produced the first body-shell, we [have proven] that we can achieve deadlines,” he asserted.