Ready to roll in Nigel

Mbhazima Shilowa was in Derby this week to take delivery of the first Gautrain carriages, but the focus will soon shift to the East Rand town of Nigel.

Nigel has been selected as the town where 81 of the 96 Electrostar carriages will be assembled for the Gautrain project.

Fifteen of the 96 carriages are being assembled at Bombardier’s Derby assembly plant, where 17 South Africans from Union Carriage and Wagon (UCW)—the Murray & Roberts subsidiary responsible for assembling the other 81—have been watching and learning.

It is all part of the skills and technology transfer that has been built into the Gautrain project to create an expected 85 additional jobs and assist UCW in its plans to develop into a serious international rail player in the future.

“The successful production of Gautrain at UCW could lead to further opportunities for Gautrain derivative vehicles elsewhere in the world,” said a Gautrain statement released this week.

These teams from UCW along with 10 Bombardier staff will constitute the core of the assembly teams when local production commences.

Shilowa says the 17 South Africans that are in Derby will impart the skills and knowledge to their colleagues back home.

“They are really the trainers that will train people when we do the 81 carriages in Nigel,” says Gautrain management agency chief executive Jack van der Merwe.

“They are part of the skills transfer and social development aspects of the Gautrain project.”

While the UCW teams assist with the production of the first 15 carriages, a mirror production line is being installed at UCW for the assembly shifts to South Africa in August 2008.

UCW is investing R8,5-million in their Nigel assembly plant to get it up to scratch to facilitate the Gautrain project.

“It is my hope that as we do the rest of the work and assembly, we will boost the economic activity around Brakpan, Springs and Nigel, that will create much-needed jobs there,” said Shilowa.

“We will link up all the small and medium enterprises there and hopefully some of the people currently working on the Gautrain will become a base for the rail industry as a whole.”

“It’s not just the trains; signalling and driving are very important; we also need conductors and so forth. We need many South Africans to become artisans and become train drivers,” said Shilowa.

UCW’s production manager Johan Woest has been overseeing the seventeen South Africans undergoing the training in Derby and said that while it was a culture shock for many of the guys, they have coped well. (See Box).

“It took us about three months to select the 17 guys from about 300 applicants,” says Woest. “We needed people who are good communicators and who might make good trainers. Before they came over, we sent them on a trainers’ training course.”

Shilowa said that the Gautrain project had created 6 900 local direct jobs and an estimated 37 300 indirect jobs, while a further 40 000 jobs are expected to be created in the vicinities of the different stations.

The 15 fully assembled carriages will be shipped from the UK and then transported via road to Gauteng when they arrive on South African shores.

The roofs, underframes, bodysides and ends for each of the remaining 81 carriages will be packed flat into crates, and shipped to South Africa for assembly in Nigel.

Some of the subsystems will be purchased locally in South Africa for assembly onto the trains.

The Gautrain system will have 24 train sets, each consisting of four carriages and they will run at operational speeds of up to 160km/h.

Ten of these rail carriages will be customised with wider seats and luggage space to run on the link between Sandton and OR Tambo International Airport.

The 96 Gautrain carriages will be supported by a feeder fleet of 125 buses to assist more than 200 000 passengers using the Gautrain on a daily basis.

The multiple- award winning Electrostar series have lightweight aluminium bodies that offer increased energy efficiency and reduced maintenance requirements.

In addition to the Electrostar carriages, Bombardier is also providing the Gautrain’s core electrical and mechanical systems such as the communications, fare collection, power and distribution systems.

There are more than 1 600 Electrostar vehicles operating in the United Kingdom, where they have earned the accolade of Best Modern Era Electrical Mechanical Units for three years running.” In 2000 we said that South Africa will not be the test bed for new technology. Today we kept that promise,” said Van der Merwe.

Unexpected domestic spin-offs
While the 17 Union Carriage and Wagons (UCW) staffers learn how to assemble trains in Derby, it seems there are other domestic spin-offs too.

“We had to learn to cook for ourselves, which is something we couldn’t do at home,” says Moses Pitsi. “I can even help my wife to cook when I get back home.”

Pitsi has been working with the Bombardier tracking and fit out team attaching the equipment to the underside of the carriage.

“The one thing we always want is pap and we have to drive 20 minutes to Tescos to get it,” says Pitsi.
“But it’s not like the one back home, it tastes different.”

“The food here is just not the same,” says Sibusiso Dlamini who has been involved in the testing of the new trains.

“Especially the meat,” quips Jan du Preez, Dlamini’s colleague on the testing team.

“The meat tastes really different and we are missing our braai and boerewors.”

But all three agree that the opportunity to learn at the Bombardier assembly plant in Derby has been great.

“This factory is world-class and the technology is also world-class, so we are learning a lot,” says Du Preez.

“I think at the end of the day it will be a great help to South Africa.”

“It’s been a wonderful experience living here,” says Dlamini. “The different culture and people have been great; some of them are sort of crazy, but we have got mates now, as they say in England.”

Lloyd Gedye

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