Gibela Transport, a joint venture 61% owned by French company Alstom, on Tuesday signed a contract worth US$5.1-billion (R51-billion) to supply 600 passenger trains, comprising 3 600 coaches, to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa).
The contract was signed in Johannesburg by Prasa Group CEO Lucky Montana, Alstom CEO Patrick Kron and Alstom Transport president Henri Poupart-Lafarge in the presence of South African President Jacob Zuma and visiting French President Francois Hollande.
"This project is one of the biggest in rail transport worldwide and is the largest contract ever signed in Alstom's history," Alstom said in a statement.
In 2010, the South African government embarked on an ambitious fleet renewal programme aimed at revitalising the country's rail industry. The programme will see the ageing fleet of suburban trains currently in service in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban being replaced with 1 200 electric trains over a period of 20 years.
Gibela's 10-year contract represents the first phase of a 20-year programme in which Prasa will procure approximately 7 224 new rolling stock with a projected investment of R123-billion.
The contract includes the construction of a local manufacturing facility. Gibela will build a manufacturing site in Ekurhuleni, east of Johannesburg, to produce the trains in South Africa. Construction is scheduled to start in early 2014, with the factory due to come on-stream in 2015.
The manufacturing facility will also house an engineering centre and a training facility, enabling Gibela to provide technical support and supply spare parts for the coaches over an 18-year period.
According to Prasa, the project will create over 1 500 direct jobs in the local factory and 33 000 indirect jobs over the first 10 years, achieving a local-content level of over 65%.
The first 20 trains will be manufactured in Lapa, Brazil. Alstom's French sites Ornans, Tarbes, Villeurbanne and Saint-Ouen will be involved in the project over the long term.
"While the urgent challenge to improve passenger services remains primary, the rolling stock programme has been designed to achieve government's objectives of developing skills, creating jobs and delivering quality services to citizens," Montana said.
Poupart-Lafarge said Alstom was "fully committed to mobilising the best of our technology and expertise through our South African joint venture Gibela, and we believe our trains will set a high standard in serving the interests of commuters."
Prasa will be supplied with X'Trapolis Mega, the new X'Trapolis train developed by Alstom to fit the 1.067 metre gauge in South Africa. The train can travel at speeds of up to 120 km/h with the ability to be upgraded to 160 km/h. Each single-deck train comprises six cars and can carry more than 1 300 passengers.
According to Alstom, the train is equipped with air conditioning, ergonomic seats, real-time on-board information and wi-fi internet access, and includes an enhanced door system to provide better accessibility for passengers with reduced mobility, along with full-length connecting gangways for improved fluidity.
"The stainless steel car body-shell reduces the weight of the train, and its electrical braking capacity enables a significant reduction in energy consumption."