President Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa said that SA's state-of-the-art train manufacturing plant was a catalyst for the transformation of passenger rail services. File Image:IOL

JOHANNESBURG - President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday that South Africa's state-of-the-art train manufacturing plant was a catalyst for the transformation of passenger rail services and public transport.

Ramaphosa was speaking at the official launch of the R1 billion train manufacturing factoty in Dunnottar, Ekurhuleni, where the majority of The X'Trapolis MEGA trains for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) rolling stock project will be built, initially 580 commuter trains comprising 3,480 coaches.

"This is a great moment both for the development of passenger rail in South Africa and for the expansion of the industrial capacity of our economy. As an essential part of government’s rolling stock fleet renewal programme, this factory serves as a catalyst for the transformation of passenger rail services and public transport more broadly," Ramaphosa said.

"It demonstrates our determination to develop passenger rail as a critical enabler of economic growth and social development. Passenger rail is among the most cost-effective and efficient means to connect people to places of work, to connect them to vacation destinations, to connect them to relatives and to friends."

Ramaphosa said that after decades of under-investment in new trains for passenger rail transport, this investment signified a new era in the modernisation of the commuter rail network.

"This factory will have a profound impact not only in the sphere of public transport, but also in developing the country’s manufacturing capacity. For instead of simply importing new train sets, we have used this opportunity to invest in local industry, capabilities and skills," he said.

"It gives concrete expression to our determination – as articulated in the framework agreement adopted at the Jobs Summit earlier this month – to buy South African goods. This factory is not only about building trains; it is also about advancing the industrialisation of our economy."

Ramaphosa said that government was determined to restore manufacturing as a growing sector of the economy, after years of neglect, in large part because it has great potential to create jobs, support secondary industries and increase our export capacity.

The rolling stock fleet renewal programme is expected to create over 8,000 direct jobs throughout the Gibela Consortium’s supply chain, with this factory targeting the creation of 1,500 jobs.

By the end of this programme, the Gibela Consortium aims to have trained over 6,700 artisans, about 2,000 engineering technicians and nearly 600 professional engineers.

"As we establish a new Infrastructure Fund to consolidate government’s infrastructure spending, and as we establish mechanisms to ensure more effective implementation, we will look to this project as a successful model for public and private cooperation," Ramaphosa said.

Ismail Vadi, Gauteng member of the executive council (MEC) for Roads and Transport, said that it was important for South Africa to shift as much as possible passenger and freight transport from road to rail due to overpopulation and climate change.

"Gauteng’s 25-year Integrated Transport Masterplan beckons us to develop an integrated public transport system for the Gauteng Global City Region, with rail as the back-bone of this system," Vadi said.

Our focus must be on developing a good rail system that is accessible, reliable, safe and affordable. To achieve this, especially in Gauteng, there has to be close co-operation and co-ordination between all three spheres of government."

African News Agency