Tshepo Lucky Montana, CEO of Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), speaks during the announcement of a contract for the design, manufacture and supply of a new fleet of trains for South African commuters worth R51 billion at Park Station in Johannesburg, Tuesday, 11 December 2012.In one of the biggest government deals ever awarded by South Africa, Alstom will build 3 600 new train coaches to help overhaul the country's rail network.The first test trains would be delivered in the first quarter of 2015. A new factory would be built within a year to manufacture the trains and coaches in South Africa.Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

Johannesburg - Plans for a makeover of South African trains to install air conditioning, security cameras and bigger seats in all passenger coaches were unveiled on Tuesday.

The state-of-the-art blue and silver trains would become a reality in 2015, the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) said in Johannesburg.

CEO Lucky Montana said the current fleet would be replaced and all trains - commuter and long distance - would boast high level security, bigger seats, a new shape and better communication and technology.

“These trains will bring comfort and the doors will close automatically. People who try and stop the doors will get hurt and there will also be no more hanging from trains,” he said, describing the features.

“The trains will have aircon and will have CCTVs. So those who burn trains - we will be able to catch them on camera. These trains will have a route map, so there will be a voice giving the routes. These modern trains will also have on-board communication.”

He said the long-distance trains would have WiFi and toilet facilities.

A signalling facility would ensure that the trains braked automatically if drivers drove too fast in certain areas, if two trains were on the same track and if level crossings were not closed.

Montana said the trains would be designed for people with disabilities and special needs, and would include wheelchair facilities.

With 80 percent more capacity, Montana said it was hoped overcrowding would be a thing of the past in commuter trains.

The rolling stock fleet renewal programme would ensure that all the trains would be manufactured and assembled in the country.

He said the current trains could not meet the expectations of the commuters and had reached a low level of reliability.

“The current fleet have served the country so well, but they have now reached the end of their run.”

The upgrades were not limited to the trains. There would be upgrades to train stations, and sub-stations would also be replaced to ensure there was reliable electricity on the railways.

During peak hours the capacity would be increased and trains would be available every three to five minutes from 2015.

With an average age of 39 years for the current 4638 coaches operating in Gauteng, Durban, Western Cape and the Eastern Cape, Montana said the upgrade was necessary.

“It was a mistake for South Africa to not invest in railway for the past 33 years,” he said.

“We are paying the price for that lack of investment.”

About 90 percent of the current trains were purchased in the 1950s, with the last purchase made in 1986.

With a fleet this old, the technology was also dated and Prasa said the systems technology of all trains would be replaced to ensure safety.

Montana said that despite the upgrades to the trains and the infrastructure, there would be no significant effect on the wallet of commuters.

“We are not looking at increasing fares in the next five years on a massive scale; there will be adjustments to meet inflation, but we are saying that the current workers can't bear the burden for the upgrade.”

Prasa invested R123 billion to the upgrade over a period of 20 years and production of the trains are set to start in 2014.

On November 5, Prasa announced that it has accepted a US5.8 billion (about R73.9bn) deal with French company Astom for the programme. - Sapa