The celebration of the 100th train by the Government, Gibela and Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) is apt in this time of our country’s history. South Africans must be proud of that 100th train and not be bogged down by who should take credit. It certainly was a feat achieved by many people – and yes Lucky Montana shouldn’t be denied his flowers.

That said, an honest review of the journey to the 100th train is a lot more interesting for posterity than the squabbles that tend to be associated with mega projects in the Republic. The Tshwane Chamber of Business and Industry (TCBI) has been following this program hoping the City of Tshwane (CoT) will benefit somehow either from the industrial opportunities but certainly from the mobility of the CoT ratepayers. Prasa had invested substantially in some of the key corridors in Tshwane during and shortly after FIFA World Cup to move commuters in safety and comfort but more importantly reliably and cost-efficiently.

The journey was long but a good place to start is with a feasibility study that National Treasury funded. The study drew professionals from the disciplines such as Legal, Technical, Commercial, Finance and last but not least Economic development. It’s out of this study that Prasa and of course SA, had a handle on the current and projected demand for passenger trips, the required number of vehicles, jobs, skills and of course cost and benefit.

Following this report, a team of Transactional Advisers was appointed and with a select team inside Prasa shaped the RFP for the procurement of 600 trains to be manufactured in South Africa over a ten-year period. At that time this was one of the very few intentional industrial programs by our government. Alongside the ten-year manufacturing, the contract was another contract for the technical support and spare supply agreement that went beyond ten years to 18 years. Local content and other economic development
imperatives were the hallmarks of this program. A remarkable thing is that the government rightly so, allowed the entities’ Board to charge management to run this program until the contract was awarded. It is interesting that all of this is in the public domain but people still confuse the Diesel Locomotive and the Electric Multiple Units (EMU) transactions. A cursory glance at the Prasa annual reports between 2013-2016/17 would reveal all of this – and more.

From the TCBI perspective, we are happy for our counterparts in Ekhuruleni who were bestowed with the privilege to host the factory. Most of the higher quality jobs in the industrial sector will be at Ekhuruleni which shouldn’t surprise us as historically they had the bulk of Rolling Stock industry, manufacturing and related services. Tshwane did not lose out completely from the program. Tied closely to the manufacturer of trains was the construction of depots in the four Metros Prasa’s Commuter Rail services are rendered. Tshwane Wolmerton, in the North of Tshwane, benefited as the first depot in the Republic to receive a technology upgrade. Further, the first corridor in the Republic to receive the first EMU was the Pretoria-Mamelodi line.

The TBCI believe there’s a lot more that can be unlocked out of that program if Government, Gibela & Prasa join hands with stakeholders to give full expression to the aspirations of the program. Such aspirations were embedded in the RFP and include, jobs, training, Technology Transfers, and Economic Development.

Let’s celebrate the 100th train but also go beyond PR and be held to account to also deliver on other dimensions of the program. Gibela is delivering trains designed in France by Alston but let’s be clear, Gibela was created and funded by South African taxpayer money – it is not Foreign Direct Investment from the French. We support the program, and we celebrate the trains but we must insist that the program delivers to all the rail corridors of the Republic of South Africa and local economic development to impacted communities.

Thapelo Petje
T: 012 348 2922
77 Kariba Street
Lynnwood Manor
City of Tshwane