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X’Trapolis Mega train assembled in South Africa, source: Gibela

Rolling stock manufacturers intensify competition in South Africa

An increasing number of rolling stock manufacturers regard South Africa as a key to their success on the entire African railway market. To strengthen presence, they establish or modernise own facilities in the country. This year alone, two major companies, Alstom from France and Transmashholding from Russia, have launched new and upgraded plants in South Africa. Other foreign rolling stock manufacturers produce the new rolling stock in South Africa with the help of local partners.

One of the latest developments is the modernisation of Ubunye rail factory, a joint venture of Alstom and local partners IDC and CTE. In the past three years, this facility was retrofitted significantly with new equipment including advanced robot technology and upskilling personnel. The Ubunye site was certified to EN 15085 CL1 and ISO 3834-2, the highest welding certification level in the industry.

Initially, the Ubunye facility will be a part of the manufacturing process of the X’Trapolis Mega electric trains. It will deliver bogies, underframes, traction cases and static inverters for this type of rolling stock which is being produced at the Gibela plant, another Alstom joint venture in South Africa. Earlier, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) ordered 580 vehicles of this type for the Cape Town commuter links. Afterwards, Alstom intends to use these two facilities for the expansion across the continent. “We are confident in the future of South Africa and have established this industrial footprint with a long-term vision to be an African Rail Hub of excellence,” said Henri Poupart-Lafarge, CEO of Alstom.

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Ivolga train, source: Transmashholding

Russians in South Africa

For Russian rolling stock manufacturer Transmashholding (TMH), South Africa is a brand new market. The company entered it only last year having acquired the local plant in Boksburg. TMH invested 500 million rands (over 30 million euros) in this facility in order to make it capable to assemble, maintain and modernise the rolling stock. At the beginning of April, the upgraded production site was officially launched.

The Russian company makes no secret of its plans. It purchased the South African facility as a basis for the future expansion in other African countries. To this end, last week TMH signed two memoranda with the partners from Angola and Nigeria on the future cooperation and the potential deliveries of new rolling stock to these countries.

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Transnet Freight Rail Class 43-000 locomotives, source: Wikimedia Commons

Local partners

Three major rolling stock manufacturers CRRC, General Electric and Bombardier Transportation also have their own interest in South Africa. They prefer to join forces with local partners just for single projects. For instance, CRRC and General Electric are cooperating with Transnet Rail Engineering, a subsidiary of South African railway company Transnet, while Bombardier Transportation has a partnership with Union Carriage & Wagon, the South African rolling stock manufacturer.

In March 2014 Transnet ordered 1,064 locomotives from four companies: 359 electric locomotives of Class 22E to be supplied by CSR Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive (China), 240 electric locomotives of Class 23 E by Bombardier Transportation, 233 diesel-electric locomotives of Class 44-000 by General Electric and 232 diesel-electric of Class 45-000 by CNR Rolling Stock (China). After the merger of CSR and CNR in 2015, the newly-born company CRRC got over half of the large contract.

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Author: Mykola Zasiadko

Mykola Zasiadko is editor of online trade magazines RailTech.com and RailFreight.com.

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