Gibela Transport, a joint venture 61% owned by French company Alstom, has begun manufacturing the 600 state-of-the-art passenger trains, comprising 3 600 coaches, that are set to revitalise South African rail transport while giving a major boost to the industrialisation of the economy.
Gibela signed the US$5.1-billion (R51-billion) contract to supply the trains - the largest deal ever struck by Alstom, and one of the biggest in rail transport worldwide - with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) in October.
Gibela's 10-year contract represents the first phase of a 20-year fleet renewal programme in which Prasa will procure approximately 7 224 new rolling stock with a projected investment of R123-billion.
Unveiling the final design of the new trains in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said the project had reached financial close, and that the first of the trains would be running on South African railway tracks towards the end of 2015.
"Today marks yet another milestone in the long journey ... of transforming and modernising our passenger rail system," Peters said.
The first 20 trains are being manufactured at Alstom's plant in Lapa, Brazil, with the remaining 580 to be manufactured at a new plant to be built near Nigel, east of Johannesburg. Gibela will spend R1-billion on the 600 000 square metre manufacturing facility, which will incorporate an engineering centre and training facility.
Peters said that more than 500 South African technicians, engineers and other professionals would be trained in the skills required to build and deliver the new trains.
Prasa Group CEO Lucky Montana said Gibela would deliver the 3 600 coaches between 2015 and 2025, while providing maintenance and technical support and supplying spares from 2015 through 2033.
Around 33 000 direct and indirect jobs would be created in this process, Montana said, while 30% of ownership would be set aside for black empowerment partners.
According to the terms of the contract:
R32.8-billion will be spent on subcontracting to black empowered companies;
R5.3-billion will be spent on subcontracting to qualifying small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs);
R1.6-billion will be spent on subcontracting to companies owned by black women;
R746-million will be spent on developing enterprises in the rail sector; and /li>
R273-million will be contributed towards socio-economic development.
"These are the beautiful trains for all South Africans," Montana said. "These are modern trains in a true sense of the word - trains that are safe, reliable and comfortable, and that even exceed some of the standards you will find in certain trains in the world.
"It is a modern train which will restore confidence on public transport in the country."