The engineering unit of South Africa’s State-owned logistics utility Transnet is actively pursuing R3-billion-worth of possible rolling-stock contracts across Africa, notwithstanding a weakened rail investment climate precipitated by a decline in commodity prices.
Speaking at the official launch of the reinstatement of a Botswana passenger rail service, which will use 37 coaches designed and manufactured in South Africa, Transnet Engineering CEO Thamsanqa Jiyane said the group was hoping to take advantage of the weaker rand as it sought to market its locomotives, wagons and coaches across the continent.
Jiyane refused to be drawn on the nature or timing of the deals, saying only that Transnet Engineering was intent on becoming a railways original equipment manufacturer and would, in June, launch its own Trans-Africa locomotive, over which it would command full intellectual-property rights.
The diesel locomotive had been designed to operate on branch lines and in rail yards and was not appropriate for heavy-haul or long-distance applications. It would be released with several other rail solutions, which Transnet Engineering intended to promote “aggressively”, despite the market headwinds associated with the resources sector slump.
However, he stressed that the unit still had a solid order book, with Transnet Freight Rail comprising around 80% of that backlog. Transnet Engineering had a yearly turnover of around R11-billion.
“Our order book performance is affected by the commodity slump . . . but the rand is working in our favour,” Jiyane explained.
The group also planned to pursue further opportunities for its passenger-coach design, which had prevailed in a competitive Botswana Rail tender last year.
Transnet Engineering was awarded the R250-million contract in July last year and the final design was signed off only in late October.
The coaches were engineered and manufactured at Transnet Engineering’s Koedoespoort and Salt River facilities, with the first 22 units showcased during the official launch in Lobatse on Tuesday, presided over by Botswana President Ian Khama. The remaining 15 units would be delivered by May.
The modern, WiFi enabled coaches include roof-mounted air conditioners, first-class sleeper designs and entertainment systems.
“This is a huge milestone towards our goal of becoming an original-equipment manufacturer of distinction and Transnet’s objective to extend its business beyond the borders of South Africa, thereby positioning itself as a leading provider of logistics services in sub-Saharan Africa,” Jiyane said.
President Khama said the new coaches would allow Botswana Rail to reinstate an overnight rail service from Lobatse, in the south of the country, to Francistown, some 500 km to the north-east, with four stops in between.
The previous service was suspended in 2009, owing to the “unacceptable” condition of the coaches.
Khama linked the investment, officially named the BR Express, directly to the country’s upcoming fiftieth anniversary since independence, which would be celebrated on September 30.
The blue coaches, which incorporate the black on white associated with Botswana’s flag, also include the ‘Bots 50’ commemorative logo as part of their livery.
Khama said the reinstated service would complement the country’s existing road and air networks and offer a new way for citizens and tourists to experience “this beautiful country”.