New set of ultra-modern blue and silver trains will soon hit the South African railway tracks to replace the ageing Metrorail fleet by the end of 2015, the Passenger Rail Association of SA (PRASA) has confirmed. The association also has plans to introduce a 1,025 seating capacity Business Express Train.

With accessories such as air-conditioning, closed-circuit television CCTV cameras to assure passengers’ safety, automated doors, an on-board communication system and Wi-Fi connectivity services to make travelling an equally good experience as the Business Express trains; the new sleek-nosed train might just be the answer to the long-wait of waiting for trains as it will be available in a frequency of two to three minutes during peak-hours and seven minutes during off-peak hours by 2015.

Apart from this, the train-model which was unveiled at Johannesburg’s Park station on Tuesday promises to be user-friendly with built-in facilities for the disabled.

While describing the features of the new train, PRASA Group CEO Lucky Montana said “These trains will bring comfort and the doors will close automatically. People who try and stop the doors will get hurt and there will also be no more hanging from trains. The trains will have aircon and will have CCTVs. So those who burn trains will be able to catch them on camera. These trains will have a route map, so there will be a voice giving the routes. These modern trains will also have on-board communication.”

“These new trains will be designed in such a way that they will be able to apply breaks automatically if level crossings are closed,”  Montana said. He added that “Commuters having to wait for 30 minutes before the next train arrives will be a thing of the past, as the new signalling system will allow trains to move faster.”

He said the new trains would have new signals costing more than R17 billion ($1.9 billion) to ensure that they run at short-frequency times.

“What it means is that we will have a safer system with the capacity to move trains quicker. The 30-minute waiting period will be a thing of the past. People will have a train every two to three minutes,” Montana said.

According to Montana, the metro coaches that would by the first quarter of the next three years will boast of an 18 percent additional loading capacity to reduce overcrowding and improve comfort.

Montana said the current Metrorail fleet was so old and dilapidated; it was failing to meet the needs of commuters.

“We have reached a point where we can no longer pump money revamping the old trains. It has reached a low level of revitalising… We cannot continue to have a commuter system where you have trains for the wealthy people and [others] for the poor,” he said, adding that the existing fleet would be scrapped.

Montana adjudged that the upgrade was necessary given the fact that the present trains have an average age of 39 years.

Prasa announcement came after last week’s confirmation that Gibela Rail Transportation – a consortium comprising French multinational transport group – Alstom and local engineering company Actom – had been awarded the R51 billion ($5.8 billion) contract to supply 3600 passenger trains to the utility for a period of ten years (2015 to 2025).

Prasa plans to purchase about 7,224 new coaches over the next 20 years to replace its existing fleet. The first phase of a larger R123 billion ($14.2 billion)  recapitalisation programme to add 7,200 new metro coaches by 2035.

While there has been concern over the fact that the multibillion contract would see money going overseas and disadvantage local companies, those involved have allayed this fear by saying that the deal will consist of 65 percent local manufacturers. The contract is also expected to create about 33 000 jobs, of which 8,088 would be direct.

Alstom north and central Europe and Africa senior VP Andreas Knitter confirmed that a factory would be constructed in South Africa and that manufacturing from this facility would commence about a year after the first test trains arrived from Brazil. Knitter said manufacturing of the test trains would start in early 2014 after which will then be shipped to South Africa for a three-month testing period.

“The trains will be manufactured in South Africa by South Africans,” said Prasa project manager Piet Sebola.

Over the years the number of local manufacturers for the project is also expected to increase to 69 percent by the second year of the contract while maintenance, spares and technical support will be provided by the Gibela consortium for the vehicles over an 18-year period to 2033.

PRASA Rail CEO Mosengwa Mofi asserted that the bid to manufacture the new train locally  is in support of  SA bigger agenda to boost industralisation.

Group chief executive Lucky Montana added: “I want to assure the country that these trains will be built in South Africa and not be (built) in France and assembled in South Africa. We want to make sure that South Africa has the capacity to design and build trains.”

“Our cities are growing at a faster rate, the increasing urbanisation requires a modern, functioning public transport system. Major cities of the same size as Johannesburg and Cape Town and the rest of the world require a cleaner transport system and we know that railways provide for that. So, we have to invest in a railway system,” Montana stated.

It has been said that commuters will have to change their behaviour once the new passenger train is rolled out.

Metrorail’s Mthuthuzeli Swartz said, “We can’t allow these trains to be vandalised from day one. If we allow this kind of behaviour we might as well close shop and go home. This is why we’re doubling up on the number security we have.”

“I think there is a huge awareness in Metrorail that protecting your assets is the single biggest priority they have.”

‘We need to cherish the new trains and not burn them, as they will have to sustain us for the next 40 to 50 years,’ PRASA’s Mosenngwa Mofi said.

On the T-fare, Montana said despite the upgrades to the trains “We are not looking at increasing fares in the next five years on a massive scale; there will be adjustments to meet inflation, but we are saying that the current workers can’t bear the burden for the upgrade.”

Meanwhile, PRASA have signed a R7 billion ($807 million) contract over the next 3-5 years for new signalling systems in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

“We have also concluded our negotiations with Bombadier Africa Alliance for the replacement of our signalling system in KwaZulu-Natal, as well as our negotiations with the Thales Maziya consortium for the replacement of the Western Cape signalling system,” Montana stated.


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