PRASA: Alstom is shaping the future of South-African railway transport with Gibela

South Africa’s National Development Plan

18 years after its first democratic elections, South Africa has decided to boost its development through the implementation of a National Plan aimed at providing the entire South-African population with fairness and prosperity by 2030. It will do this by fostering economic growth and reinforcing cooperation between the Government and South-African decision-makers.

To this end, a 26-delegate commission was appointed in May 2010 to proceed with a consultation of a kind that the country has never seen before [1].

The commission’s initial report was published in June 2011 and helped to determine the main areas of focus.

Railway transport in South Africa

On the subject of infrastructure and railway passenger transport, the commission has exposed the obsolete nature of the South African fleet. The country’s suburban trains, which carry over 2 million commuters daily, travel on a saturated network and have suffered 30 years of inadequate investment [2].

Generally speaking, a train’s working lifespan lasts 54 years providing rail industry standards are obeyed, calling for servicing every nine years and comprehensive modernisation halfway through. 51% of South Africa’s suburban trains are over 36 years old and modernising them at this time would not be cost-effective [3].

PRASA’s call for tenders

It was precisely to resolve this issue that PRASA [4] – The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa – launched wide-scale calls for tenders between 2011 and 2012, concerning:

  • The acquisition of 7,224 cars (1,200 trains) over a 20-year period, including an initial batch of 3,600 cars over a 10-year period
  • The track overhauling
  • The signalling overhauling

The calls for tenders, and especially the rolling stock one which included a local production strategy, were therefore fully in keeping with South Africa’s National Development Plan by offering to provide the country’s population with modern, reliable and efficient suburban railway transport; by rebuilding the South African railway industry and acquiring related industrial know-how and techniques; by energising economic and social development, and through its underlying job creation.

A train manufactured in South Africa by and for South Africans

In December 2012, South African joint venture Gibela [5], majority owned by Alstom, was designated by PRASA as the preferred bidder.

Following the definitive contract award in October 2013, the Gibela joint venture is now committed to establishing a new production facility in Ekurhuleni, east of Johannesburg. The site will be part of a new industrial zone bringing together all the South African partners and suppliers involved in the project. Construction has started in January 2016 with a view to being operational by 2017 (18 months).

The facility will receive a skills transfer from Alstom’s facility in Lapa, Brazil, where the initial 20  X’Trapolis Mega trains will be manufactured to ensure that the trains are delivered according to schedule (initial deliveries are expected by late 2015).

These new skills and the new site will enable to produce more than 65% of the contract’s value in South Africa. As a result, the project will generate 1,500 direct jobs [6] (of which 80% will be held by South African citizens).

Building South Africa’s future railway sector

By taking its skills and infrastructures to South Africa, Gibela is shaping the future of the country’s railway transport and is positioning itself as the country’s long-term partner, a role that is further confirmed through the supply of train maintenance, technical support and spare parts for a period of 18 years.

In addition to the contract, the French Government has made an offer to South Africa in the field of railway cooperation, aimed at reinforcing efficiency and autonomy throughout the sector [7].

Alstom is glad to be taking part in South Africa’s national development by building the foundations of tomorrow’s railway transport in the country.

[1] The consultation consisted of public forums and online discussions involving over 10,000 participants. Extensive tours in South Africa’s nine  provinces helped to come up with a diagnosis of the country. Source: National Plan Commission website 
[2]Source: NPC Diagnosis: 
[3] Source: High-level background of the PRASA rolling stock fleet renewal programme 
[4] PRASA: The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa was founded in 2008. The company is fully controlled by the South African Government.
[5] Gibela is a joint venture led by Alstom (61%). The other stakeholders are : New Africa Rail (9%), Ubumbano Rail (30%) which is the hosting entity in the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) for the BBBEE (Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment) partners, the Gibela and PRASA Employees Trust and the Educational Trust.
[6] The PRASA project will generate 1,500 direct jobs in South Africa at the Ekurhuleni facility, and will impact more than 8,000 direct jobs at Alstom.
[7] The offer aims to promote tomorrow’s South African railway leaders through accepting deserving students onto a course of French academic excellence; to boost the scope of South Africa’s certification agency through a partnership with France’s EPSF Agency; to encourage driver training with SNCF; to  share SNCF expertise relating to the coexistence of old and new equipment on the same network.