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Localisation can help revive South Africa’s rail industry

3rd May 2019

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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Original-equipment manufacturer Bombardier Transportation South Africa (BTSA) wants to be an integral part of South Africa’s growth story as it pursues localisation ambitions beyond 60%.

South Africa’s underused rail sector is primed for growth, with a revitalisation of the rail industry possible, owing to the entrenched skills and abilities.

“The capability is here – there is no reason why South Africa should not build its own trains and locomotives,” says BTSA MD Aubrey Lekwane.

The level of entrenched localisation also provides a platform for expansion into the sub-Saharan African region.

“We have transferred skills but we need to keep it going,” he says, adding that the multinational remains committed to localisation by bringing the intellectual property and skills and implanting this into the local economy.

Bombardier Transportation has been operating in South Africa since 1995, boasting a well-established manufacturing operation, innovative technologies, engineering capabilities and a talent pool of about 200 people fully trained on special tools and processes to ensure standard quality across the company.

The firm supports the local industry with rolling stock, rail control solutions, product maintenance and services, as well as locomotive and commuter train refurbishment programmes.

In 2016, the South African headquarters opened in Isando, Johannesburg.

With the head office and a production site in Isando, a business and commercial aircraft support office at Lanseria International Airport, a maintenance facility at the Gautrain depot, in Midrand, offices in Durban and warranty support offices in Port Elizabeth, Kimberley and Bellville, the group is well represented across the country.

BTSA aims to invest in local manufacturing capacity, training and improving the skills development of local employees, while working with its 70 local suppliers – 220 along the full value chain – to achieve these objectives.

Lekwane cites the Traxx Africa project as a successful case study in skills transfer.

BTSA is set to produce 240 Bombaridier Traxx freight locomotives for South Africa’s national rail and port operator, Transnet.

The 6 000 m2, R25-million Isando facility produces the Mitrac high-power propulsion equipment – described as the heart, muscles and brain of the locomotives – for the Traxx Africa electric locomotives, while the bogies and final assembly will be completed in collaboration between Transnet Engineering and Bombardier Transportation in Durban.

The Traxx Africa project resulted in ambitious manufacture in South Africa from the very first unit.

Many companies manufacture the first units in their home country, with steady transference of assembly to the host country; however, this does not transfer the full spectrum of experience and knowledge, he says.

“If you want to achieve 60% [localisation], you must start with the early phase,” he says, pointing out that this may have demanded redesigns and entailed many mistakes, but it involved South African companies from the early phase of manufacturing and allowed the full extent of skills and knowledge.

The first phase was difficult, but it was possible – and the concept brought a global success story to South Africa.

In terms of localisation, some 60% of the estimated contract value for Traxx, for example, is spent on local suppliers.

The Traxx project value chain has created 1 800 jobs.

Some R19-million has also been spent on the training and development of Bombardier staff in South Africa since the beginning of the Traxx project.

“Our commitment and investments have attracted rail suppliers to South Africa, making our local content and sourcing significantly high and our strategic suppliers are setting up manufacturing facilities in South Africa.”

It also positioned the company well for further expansions and opportunities across Africa.

As the resources are now based locally, the office is able to support sub-Saharan Africa’s efforts in the rail industry, he says.

BTSA’s overall supply chain exceeds 220 suppliers in South Africa, with nearly 70 suppliers in locomotive contracting, including 23 black-owned small and medium-sized enterprises that supply components.

Bombardier also believes that gender diversity and women in leadership are essential elements of long-term success in South Africa.

The company strongly advocates for women in rail, with 43% of the local staff complement being female.

“Bombardier fosters diversity and equal opportunities for our female employees and their professional development and is committed to providing a work environment free of barriers and biases,” Lekwane concludes.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor



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