Youth driving SA back to rail
Local youth are at the forefront of assembling, testing, commissioning and delivering new and modern commuter trains for South Africa.
They are employed by Gibela at the first-of-its-kind R1 billion train manufacturing facility in Dunnottar in Ekurhuleni, about 50km east of Johannesburg.
It is at this new 72-hectare plant that they are building the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa's (PRASA) rolling stock of modern commuter trains.
Gibela – a partnership between Alstom, a multinational world leader in integrated transport systems and South Africa's Ubumbano Rail and New Africa Rail – was launched in 2014 to deliver on two major contracts for PRASA. These are to manufacture 580 state-of-the-art X'Trapolis Mega commuter trains, over 10 years, to replace the aged current fleet for Metrorail and to supply technical services and spares for the trains during their first 19 years in service.
The cutting-edge train production facility was recently unveiled by President Cyril Ramaphosa. It is a critical hub for providing onsite maintenance and engineering services, a training facility for railway-specific artisan skills and
an engineering centre of excellence.
The construction of the factory commenced in January 2016 with manufacturing activities starting in 2017.
According to Gibela, currently more than 400 people are directly employed in the factory and it anticipates that the number will rise to more than 1 500 once the factory is in full production.
Of these, more than 200 are engineers and technicians – including 80 women who have been trained and deployed as full-time Gibela employees; 50 skilled and semi-skilled artisans and technicians; and 65 apprentices, who began their apprenticeships at the new training centre since last year.
Youth such as Mapula Tsebela (25), a semi-skilled mechanical filter, is one of the previously unemployed who has benefited from the project.
Responsible for the internal installations like door trimmings, roof arcs and seats, Tsebela from neighbouring Tsakane township, said the project has changed her life by giving her an opportunity to be employed full-time.
She found out about the project through a website, applied and was hired in April 2018.
“The six months working here has changed me. It has been a great experience since I was fresh from college after graduating in mechanical engineering at Ekhuruleni East College. This plant has created a great experience for me and many other youth in this area,” she said.
Another youth who is benefiting from the project is Sibusiso Simelane. He is an electrical fitter who started working last year November after hearing about the project from the Department of Labour.
Simelane said he had to undergo further skills training which was offered by the company.
“This is a big project for South Africa and I'm part of making history. Even generations to follow will know about this project. It has changed my life,” said Simelane.
He said the plant is helping to address the most pressing challenge in South Africa today: unemployment, especially among the youth.
The overall employment equity at the plant constitutes 49 percent female and 51 percent male, with 635 full-time employees, 90 percent of whom are black, according to Gibela.
To meet the demanding local content requirement of at least 65 percent, Gibela has taken on board 54 South African suppliers to supply materials, parts and services. This has created more than 4 700 jobs which the company is supporting through its activities.
Looking ahead over the next 10 years, the training centre is expected to skill over 6 700 artisans, about 2 000 engineering technicians and nearly 600 professional engineers across South Africa's rail sector.
A milestone for South Africa
Speaking at the unveiling of the factory to the public, President Ramaphosa said it was a significant development for passenger rail, the economy, industrialisation and manufacturing in the country.
The President went on to welcome the investment commitment, saying the project demonstrates the value of the partnership between the government, its agencies and the private sector, ensuring that public investment in infrastructure is effectively leveraged to promote industrialisation, localisation and job creation.
“When we talk about the expansion of our economy, it is a place like this and people like you that we are talking about,” he added.
After decades of under-investment in new trains for passenger rail transport, the President said this investment signifies a new era in the modernisation of the commuter rail network.
Restoring manufacturing and creating jobs
This factory will have a profound impact not only in the sphere of public transport but also in developing the country's manufacturing capacity, President Ramaphosa said.
“For instead of simply importing new trains, we have used this opportunity to invest in local industry, capabilities and skills.”
After years of decline, President Ramaphosa said the government is determined to restore manufacturing as a growing sector of the economy, in large because it has great potential to create jobs, support secondary industries and increase the country's export capacity.
“This factory will demonstrate that South Africa has advanced manufacturing capabilities that will only gain in value over time.”
Turning to the rail sector, the President was of the view that the factory will serve as a catalyst for the transformation of passenger rail services and public transport more broadly.
“It demonstrates our determination to develop passenger rail as a critical enabler of economic growth and social development.
“Our railways must become the arteries of a growing economy that brings meaningful improvement to people's lives,” he said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, with Transport Minister Blade Nzimande and Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport Ismail Vadi during a visit to a new train manufacturing facility in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng.