2 July 2015
The Gibela Rail Transport Consortium (Gibela) is gearing up to start the construction of its R1-billion, 85 000m² factory complex at Dunnottar in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng. Construction is scheduled to start in the third quarter of this year.
Once up and running, it will be building trains at a hitherto unheard-of peak rate of 62 trains a year – and South Africa will have taken a very visible and significant leap into the world of high-tech train manufacturing, according to Gibela. “South Africa’s 40-odd year gap when it comes to train-building technology is about to close,” it says.
The factory is part of a contract signed by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) with the Alstom-led consortium in October 2013. Work was meant to start on the factory in the beginning of this year, but delays in securing the site led to delays in construction.
The R51-billion contract is to supply Prasa with 600 new trains over 10 years. The first 20 trains are being made in Brazil; the balance will be assembled at the Dunnottar complex. The last train is scheduled for delivery in 2027.
This project will, in keeping with the mandate of Prasa, help to restore the viability of South Africa’s commuter rail system, says Gibela. But the expanded fleet of trains is only one of the benefits: others are the skills and technology transfer from Gibela’s French parent company, Alstom, as well as local sourcing of specialised components that will contribute to South Africa’s industrial growth.
Trains are built by people, and once fully operational, the Dunnottar facility employ at least 1 500 people, the majority of whom will be skilled artisans. Recruitment is already at an advanced planning stage for permanent positions, with clear career paths for those selected.
Preference will be given to those who have academic qualifications as well as artisanal skills. Most of those recruited will be drawn from the areas adjacent to the manufacturing facility but given the scarcity of the required skills, the net will be cast wider.
However, Gibela will undertake training as well in various rail-related skills for possible jobs in the rail industry.
At the outset, artisans possessing a range of skills, including leadership, will be selected for intensive training at Alstom’s Brazilian facility where the first 20 of the Prasa trains are being made. They will then be able to pass on their skills to their colleagues back in South Africa on their return.
More than 20 Gibela employees, the majority of whom are engineers, are already in France, Italy, Belgium and Brazil, where they are receiving a cross-section of advanced skills that will be critical in supporting a manufacturing rate that will, according to Granger, “test the abilities of the most experienced and large original equipment manufacturer at its best manufacturing unit”.
Gibela will ramp up from the current staff complement of 112 to 350 by the end of the company’s March 2016 financial year.
Parts and components needed to build the modern trains will need to be state of the art. New and established South African suppliers will be brought on board, some of whom will occupy premises at the Dunnottar factory site. A robust, sustainable local supplier base needs to be developed to achieve the company’s 65% local content obligations, it says.
To build ties with local suppliers, Gibela has been interacting with local suppliers to leverage the company’s expertise and that of Alstom to equip them with capabilities to be competitive and to manufacture at the required rate and quality. “It is through these relationships and the transparent exchange of information that challenges such as lack of industrialisation and industrial capacity shortages can be overcome and the supply of long-lead items (on time, on budget and in the right quantities) assured,” says Gibela.
Work on the first 20 trains in Brazil is well on track, and the first train with its six cars is in the testing phase. Shipment to South Africa is planned in September, with on-shore delivery in November. All six cars of train number two are in the fitting phase and production for the rest is on-going.
“We are pleased with the progress made and our Brazilian colleagues are now getting ready to welcome South African artisans and to not only impart skills but also benefit from language and cross-cultural exchanges,” says Granger.