Johannesburg -

The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) has accepted a US5.8 billion (about R73.9bn) deal with French company Astom to refurbish passenger trains, it said on Wednesday.

The deal was one of the largest ever signed by South Africa's government since the end of the apartheid era, Prasa said.

“The ageing fleet combined with rapidly growing passenger need has led Prasa to focus on up-scaling the rolling stock investment as part of a broader strategy to acquire modern technology to meet changing demands,” said CEO Lucky Montana.

It had stepped up efforts in the past two years to significantly invest in new rolling stock over the next 20 years.

The first trains were expected to be delivered in 2015.

Montana said Prasa's rolling stock fleet renewal programme was the catalyst for the transformation of Metrorail services and public transport as a whole.

“It is a critical part of the rollout of the government's comprehensive rail programme over the next two decades.”

Montana said the programme was designed to achieve government objectives such as the delivery of quality services to citizens, the revitalisation of South Africa's rail engineering industry through local manufacturing, and ensuring local content.

The deal includes a set 65 percent minimum local content as part of government policy to create employment, develop skills and achieve broad-based black economic empowerment, he said.

In December 2010, the KPMG consortium consisting of Interfleet Technology, Arcus Gibb, Edward Nathan Sonnenberg and KPMG Services was appointed to undertake a feasibility study on the acquisition of the new rolling stock. It completed the study in June 2011.

Prasa said it has 4638 coaches for Metrorail operations in Gauteng, Durban, Western Cape and Eastern Cape.

About 90 percent of the rolling stock currently in operation dates back to the late 1950s.

The last new trains, comprising only two percent of the commuter rail fleet, were purchased in the mid 1980s.

Of the total number of coaches, 2200 were older than 36 years.

“At this age, it is not economical to upgrade the fleet,” said Montana.

The new fleet programme included the acquisition of 7224 electric multiple units with projected investment of R123 billion over a period of 20 years (between 2015 and 2035).

These would replace the current fleet.

A total of 5256 vehicles would satisfy existing rail passenger demand on the current network until the year 2020.

Another 456 vehicles would address growth in rail passenger demand to the year 2030 on the existing network, and a possible further 1512 vehicles would satisfy long-term rolling stock needs on new corridors, to be constructed as part of a possible future expansion. - Sapa