24 November 2008
Bombardier Transportation UK and local black economic empowerment company Strategic Partners Group have launched Isithimela Rail Services, a new company that will be responsible for laying the track works in South Africa’s Gautrain rapid rail link project.
According to Bombela Concession Company spokesperson Kelebogile Machaka, both companies will hold a 50% shareholding in Isithimela.
“Under the partnership, Isithimela has been sub-contracted to execute the track works aspect of the Gautrain project, for a contract value estimated at approximately R800-million,” she told BuaNews in Johannesburg this week.
In addition, she said there was an intention that the company would undertake track maintenance on the Gautrain project during the 15-year concession operational period.
“To date, Isithimela has started laying close to seven kilometres of track at the Gautrain depot, while works along Gautrain’s mainline have recently commenced.”
Approximately 180km of rail will be laid for the Gautrain, which will connect Johannesburg, Pretoria and OR Tambo International Airport.
South African first
Machaka explained to BuaNews that Isithimela would be the first local company to lay 1 435mm or standard gauge tracks, which is the predominant track gauge used internationally.
“The standard gauge tracks are wider than usual rail tracks used in South Africa and offer greater balance and safety for a high-speed rail service,” she said.
South Africa presently makes use of the narrower Cape gauge, which measure 1 065mm between the tracks.
African expansion aspirations
Speaking to BuaNews, Isithimela Rail Services chairman David Moshapalo said the company’s objective was to build capacity to enable it to execute the track work, which would also position the company for further business opportunities outside of the Gautrain project.
“Our goal is to furthermore tender for other track work contracts on the African continent, so as to create more jobs for our people,” he said.
Moshapalo explained that during the Gautrain development period, Isithimela would focus on various scopes of work, including the installation of both ballasted and ballast-less track, supply materials for the installation works, and provide plant services and equipment to execute the track works.
Technology, skills transfer
Also at the event, Gauteng provincial transport minister Ignatius Jacobs launched and named two specialised track laying equipment. Both machines are being used on the project to set the track horizontally and vertically, as well as to combat the ballast beneath and around concrete sleepers.
Since the Isithimela partnership commenced in January, it has provided employment for over 230 mainly local people. In order to build capacity and know-how, Bombardier Transportation UK has seconded specialised expatriate staff and management to Isithimela.
“Local technicians have learnt to work with brand new technology, while entrepreneurs found new markets for their services,” Jacobs said. “Their task is to transfer their expert knowledge, skills and technology to the locally employed staff complement who are intended to manage the company into the future.”