Gibela to build R1 billion commuter train factory

South Africa’s 40-odd year gap when it comes to train-building technology is about to close as the Gibela Rail Transport Consortium (Gibela) gears 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.

When the factory is completed and comes into production, building trains at a hitherto unheard of peak rate of 62 trains a year, South Africa will have taken a very visible and significant leap into the world of high-tech train manufacturing.

The ramifications of what the Gibela-PRASA nexus means for South Africa are extensive as this project will, in keeping with PRASA’s mandate, help restore the viability of South Africa’s commuter rail system.

Gibela’s R51 billion contract to supply PRASA with 600 new trains over 10 years is only one part of the whole. South Africa will also benefit from a contract that seamlessly incorporates skills and technology transfer from Gibela’s French parent company, Alstom, with local sourcing of a range of specialised components that will combine to contribute to South Africa’s industrial renaissance.

In a contract this size and duration, transparency lies at the heart of all Gibela’s business interactions.


The Gibela Rail Transport Consortium (Gibela) gears 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

Gibela’s CEO Marc Granger insists that “this is a non-negotiable for the company – suppliers, and indeed all stakeholders, need to gauge demand and capacity before committing to playing their part in restoring South Africa’s rail industry. Developing a sustainable industry takes time and Gibela knows that facing challenges head-on and openly is critical to the project.”

Creating sustainable jobs and developing South African skills
When it is up and running, the Dunnottar facility will provide employment for at least 1 500 people, the majority of whom will be skilled artisans, says the company. The recruitment process is at an advanced planning stage for permanent positions, with clear career paths for those selected. There are likely to be many more applicants than positions available, and the selection process will be demanding. 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 in consideration of the scarcity of the required skills the net will be cast wider across provincial confines. It is, however, worthy to note that opportunities exist in the Gibela contract for the training, of those who are not qualified, 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 currently being manufactured in a move calculated to enable such training ahead of the start of the South African manufacturing programme. It is training that will not only hone the artisans’ own skills but that will also provide them with the ability 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.” This group, too, will be returning to South Africa, ready to pass on the skills they have acquired to their colleagues as Gibela ramps up from the current staff complement of 112 to 350 by the end of the company’s March 2016 financial year.

Local sourcing
Local sourcing is not simply a question of buying local products off the shelf. Parts and components needed to build the modern PRASA trains will themselves be state of the art. This means a special relationship with new and established South African suppliers – not only those who will occupy premises at the Dunnottar factory site but also others further afield. A robust, sustainable local supplier base needs to be developed to achieve the company’s 65% local content obligations.


The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) insists media reports on its Spanish-manufactured Afro 4000 diesel locomotives were incorrect and misleading. It may be possible to salvage some operational integrity from the embarrassment of the Spanish-built locomotives that are of the wrong specifications for at least some parts of South Africa’s rail network. The degree of the blunder is not yet clear, but it does seem an element of blunder exists. Faster, lighter and eco-friendly train locomotives have been imported from Spain by PRASA as part of their R3.5 billion fleet renewal programme. Seventy locomotives have been imported, of which 20 run purely on diesel and 50 are hybrids running on both diesel and electricity. The Afro4000s, which consist of six engines and double cabins, allow the driver to drive from either end without having to turn the train around. The new machines are “best suited” for long-distance liners. A trip to Johannesburg can take up to 20 hours, but with the Afro4000 there could be a saving of up to seven hours for this trip. They can travel at 180km/h, which is double the speed of current locomotives, but the network and infrastructure does not allow for their maximum speed to be used

The foundations towards the strengthening of ties with local suppliers are being established. Gibela’s Supplier Development team 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.

Several successes have already been recorded and critical to these is capacity-building, which is resulting in win-win solutions for Gibela and its suppliers and most importantly, their access to export markets.

Progress with the Brazilian manufacturing programme
The Brazilian manufacturing programme for the first 20 trains has advanced to an extent where the first train with its six cars is in the testing phase and well on course for shipment to South Africa in September, ahead of on-shore delivery in November. All six cars of train number two are in the fitting phase and the production flow for the rest is on track.

“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.

Transnet and US-based General Electric (GE) locomotives
Transnet and GE in 2009 signed an agreement for the supply of 100 diesel-electric locomotives to Transnet. This was followed, in 2012, by a further order for 43 locomotives that would be used on the Phalaborwa–Richards Bay corridor, the Sishen–Saldanha iron-ore corridor, the Witbank–Nelspruit–Komatipoort line and to transport coal to Eskom power stations. To date, over 150 000 hours of locomotive assembly-related technical and nontechnical skills training had been undertaken by both GE and Transnet employees, with 82 Transnet Engineering (TE) employees having received training from GE and with 382 new jobs created.

Significant localisation had also been achieved, with the programme benefiting from a GE injection of more than R1.8 billion as part of the South African government’s competitive supplier development programme, while 20 local black economic empowerment-rated suppliers had partnered with the two companies to help deliver the planned locomotives over the past five years.

Since embarking on the South Africa–US partnership in 2009, Transnet and GE had delivered over 140 locomotives and with over 35% local content, with the final 60 to be unveiled before the end of July. This year, as GE worked towards delivering 233 evolution series diesel electric locomotives to Transnet as part of the freight logistics group’s 1 064 locomotives programme, local content would rise to over 55%, with GE committed to continuing its contribution to skills and small and medium-sized enterprise development.

For more information contact Pamella Radebe of Gibela on TEL: 011 518 8232 or 083 277 8766 or email