Major renewal of South Africa’s trains

New state-of-the-art passenger trains will begin operating in Cape Town and across South Africa in 2015, as part of the R123 billion (nearly $15 billion) “rolling stock renewal” programme by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA).

The upgrade will see South Africa's old Metrorail trains replaced with 3,600 new coaches over the next ten years, out of a total of 7,224 over 20 years. PRASA has sanctioned an initial tranche of R40bn for the first ten-year tender, making the new fleet the biggest single item of government infrastructure spending since the nation's preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The plans will see about R14.5bn spent on infrastructure improvements and new train depots.

Seven international companies have entered the tendering process: Spanish firm CAF, Canadian Bombardier, China South Rail, China North Rail, Gibela Rail Transportation (comprising French manufacturer Alstom and SA company Actom), Dudula Rail (comprising Swiss company Stadler, ABB SA and Naledi Rail Engineering), and a seventh consortium of China South Rail and Wictra. PRASA is expected to announce its preferred bidder in early December.

The first trains are due to be delivered between July and December 2015. There will be no class systems on the trains which will be equipped with intercoms and wheelchair-friendly toilets, and will be designed to prevent commuters from being crushed in closing doors, a common feature on trains currently in use.

After three decades of little or no investment, South Africa's trains are outdated and often dangerous. The last time PRASA bought a train was in 1986, from Japan.