The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) has awarded the South African arm of German engineering company Siemens a €180-million (R2.7-billion) contract to implement world-class signalling systems and track upgrades on the Johannesburg and Pretoria rail networks.
Announcing the award of the contract on Wednesday, Prasa CEO Lucky Montana said the signalling systems project would increase capacity and ensure more flexibility, greater safety and fewer train delays in Gauteng province.
"The need for more effective train control is important as the number, speed, mass and length of the trains in Gauteng increase," Montana said in a statement issued by Siemens.
The agency is preparing to replace South Africa's ageing passenger fleet with modern commuter trains, which are expected to hit the tracks in 2015. Montana said Prasa would be spending almost R7-billion over the next three years on signalling system upgrades countrywide.
Siemens said the signalling overhaul was "first of its kind for South Africa", involving the replacement of outdated technology - some of it dating back to the 1930s - with modern electronic systems.
"Key features of the upgrade include the introduction of electronic interlocking systems, the upgrade and/or building of new relay rooms, a brand new train detection system, overhead and track changes, and implementation of a custom-designed train control operating system across the entire Gauteng network," the company said in a statement.
Siemens was first commissioned in 2011 to upgrade a quarter of the province's signalling system and to build a state-of-the-art central operations centre. The new contract will involve the modernisation of the remaining three-quarters of Gauteng's signalling network.
"Completion of the rail signalling project will see the Gauteng railway network aligned with modern urban rail networks across the world," said Lucio Lefebvre, senior project manager at Siemens South Africa.
According to Lefebvre, a main feature of the central operations centre is a command room housing a 52-metre wide video wall that shows the movement of trains and all activity across the entire Gauteng rail network. A fully integrated monitoring system will pick up faults and any tampering with the network.
"The new system is vandal-resistant, and rigorous measures against theft and sabotage have been incorporated into the full network design," Lefebvre said, adding: "The whole project is underpinned by stringent testing and safety processes."
Siemens said local production would account for 60% of the project, with much of the engineering, manufacturing and testing due to take place at its factory in Northriding, Johannesburg.
With around 25 000 kilometres of track, South Africa's railway network is the largest in Africa and the tenth largest in the world. Gauteng, the country's smallest but most densely populated province, is South Africa's economic hub as well as a financial and logistical gateway to the southern African region.