Earlier this month, train manufacturer Gibela celebrated the high-profile handover ceremony of its one-hundredth train set to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) in Dunnottar, Ekurhuleni.
The event was attended by Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula, Gauteng Premier David Makhura, PRASA board chairperson Leonard Ramatlakane and other dignitaries in the transport and rail industries.
In 2013, Gibela signed a R51-billion contract to supply PRASA with 600 six-car trains for its Metrorail service. The company also has a contract to deliver post-delivery train maintenance and technical support to PRASA and to manufacture and supply spare parts.
The unveiling of Gibela’s one-hundredth train set signifies that the company is on the right track to meet the requirements of delivering on its mandate to PRASA.
Additionally, developing these trains will help to optimise the commuter experience and increase Metrorail’s fleet volumes and its ability to meet commuter demand.
Mbalula said the manufacturing of these trains was a “major milestone.”
“We had a vision [about] what we are going to do here, and we did deliver what we’re supposed to deliver in terms of Gibela,” he added.
Makhura noted that the Gibela factory had helped to create jobs and that it contributed to the modernisation of rail which, in turn, supported industries such as the steel industry.
He stressed the importance of localisation, adding that manufacturing locally would also benefit the rest of Africa.
“Gibela is empowering young people, women, and small, medium and micro-enterprises. Young South Africans have built these trains for South Africa using local suppliers – this is a first in the country. The greatest dream I have is to see us use this factory to build trains for the continent. This will help us employ and train more people,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gibela chairperson Irene Charnley said Gibela supports PRASA’s efforts to “elevate commuter rail as the transport mode of choice”.
She added that the consortium also supported the revitalisation of the South African rail industry and driving economic growth, with the company employing about 1 100 people, with 70% being young people and 46% being women.
Further, Ramatlakane congratulated Gibela on delivering on its mandate.
“The trains we’re building here are for the people of South Africa. They are aptly named iSitimela saBantu, which means they’re the people’s train. The older Metrorail commuter trains will be gradually retired with the migration to the people’s train.”
Ramatlakane said PRASA was in a phase of rebuilding through an intensive rehabilitation of infrastructure across South Africa, except the Eastern Cape, which has a shared service with State-owned frieght utility Transnet infrastructure.
Through the rebuilding process, PRASA is preparing for the roll-out of the people’s train – iSitimela saBantu – in South Africa.
Ramatlakane said, in Gauteng, PRASA will initially be focusing on deploying new trains to the transport corridors of Naledi, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Kaalfontein, Pienaarspoort and Leralla. Many more areas around Johannesburg will be targeted in time. The Western Cape will also receive new trains to be deployed on several routes.
Meanwhile, Makhura and Ramatlakane highlighted the impact of rampant theft and vandalism of PRASA’s trains and infrastructure over many years.
They stressed that it was important for all role-players to work together to ensure the theft and vandalism did not continue.
"We call on our communities and the public at large to protect these assets. This asset belongs to you, the South African people. Without these trains, we cannot provide a service [that is] reliable [and] safe,” said Ramatlakane, adding that the country could not allow the level of destruction and vandalism that had prevailed up to now.
Gibela CEO Hector Danisa added that the unveiling of the one-hundredth train set showed the hard work and dedication of men and women at Gibela.
“We employ some of the sharpest minds in engineering and manufacturing who have been the backbone of our entire operation. They have worked tirelessly to reach our goals. We’re so proud to create an environment where employees can grow and develop their skills in the industry,” he concluded.