The planned five-year nationwide implementation and installation of a new, modern railway signalling system, as well as the Gauteng Nerve Centre (GNC) on Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (Prasa’s) commuter rail network are scheduled to start in January 2011.
The multibillion-rand signalling project will include upgrades to, and the replacing of, most of the current signalling systems with new railway signalling technology, starting in Gauteng, as well as the GNC, a new centralised train control centre. With the new signals, the monitoring of train movements in Gauteng from one centralised centre will now be possible.
The current signalling system has exceeded its design life and is becoming obsolete. The signals are not able to support modern and safe railway operations and this unreliability has contributed to the occurrence of accidents and poor performance in the past, says Prasa.
“The outdated signalling equipment also affects the efficiency of the operations of the trains and the service levels of Prasa,” says Prasa acting regional manager Douglas Chauke.
The technology currently used is over 30 years old and Prasa is unable to maintain this equipment as the parts required are no longer manufactured, says Prasa head of communications Nana Zenani.
“The current railway signalling system consists of a mixture of technologies developed in the 1970s and 1980s, with some parts based on 1930s and 1950s technology. Upgrading the system will replace the manual changing of signals by pulling levers,” she says.
Through Prasa’s planned railway signalling replacement initiative, train signal changes will be automated.
The implementation of the signalling systems will start in Gauteng, where more than 60% of the Prasa rail network, comprising the oldest technology, exists. “This will be the most challenging region to upgrade and will cost about R1,2-billion,” says Zenani.
While such an upgrade will, initially, result in delays to, and disruption of, services, which may inconvenience passengers, Prasa reports that there are many benefits of the new signalling project.
Prasa will be able to increase its capacity through more trains being in operation and reduce the headways from the current 12 minutes to about three minutes, explains Chauke.
“The new signalling project will change the South African rail industry,” he says.
It will also allow the efficient introduction of new, modern rolling stock into Prasa’s rail network, as the electronic systems will already be in place, says Zenani.
Prasa needs to replace its rolling stock, besides other equipment and infrastructure, as it is approaching the end of its useful life, as most of the equipment and technology is over 30 to 40 years old.
Engineering company Siemens South Africa is Prasa’s preferred bidder for the new signalling project and negotiations should be completed by December. Engineering company Actom is the reserve bidder.
The investment is in line with Prasa’s aims for the next three to five years of upgrading the existing passenger railway system and adopting new railway technology best practices.
“The rail company has identified the need to recapitalise its fleet over the next 18 years, for which an investment of over R80-billion will be required for new and refurbished coaches and locomotives,” Prasa states.