Local rail industry to be upskilled

The advancement of rail industry products has turned them into commodities that require the ability to integrate the various components (from rolling stock to infrastructure) into an existing system, says Yvan Eriau, managing director of Alstom Transport South Africa, the majority shareholder in Gibela.

In the past, it was the responsibility of railway companies to do this. But this task has now fallen to manufacturers who, either on a contract basis or through public-private partnerships, are now more integrally involved in the process. The Prasa-Gibela contract to manufacture 600 trains over 10 years and to maintain them for 18 years is a prime example.

“The project will have a major impact on the country and on the rail industry. Gibela will train and upskill 19 000 people in various rail industry skills and establish a product evolution facility to provide engineering and technical support to the manufacturing teams,” says Eriau.

For its part, Alstom Transport has started working with an initial group of 12 engineers earlier this year and is providing them with technical training that will be completed towards the end of 2015. This training entails the basic knowledge of train design disciplines, understanding of the main train functions and how they are composed in Alstom trains, and providing the engineers with an opportunity to participate in various design activities.

It is estimated that more than 1500 technical staff comprising artisans and engineers will be required over the span of the project to help with the local manufacturing of the coaches for the trains. While some of these positions will be filled by trained and experienced people, the majority will go to people who will undergo skills training. They will also receive on-the-job coaching and benefit from working alongside more experienced colleagues.

In addition, Gibela will work with tertiary institutions, training centres, and local Skills Education Training Authorities to develop the required skills. It will also provide bursaries and the vocational support necessary to ensure the sustainability of the rail sector in South Africa for the long term.

“Despite all the developments in rail transport, the basic function of rolling stock has not changed. People still want to be transported safely, comfortably, and efficiently. And while a train is still essentially ‘a box on wheels with seats’, innovation comes from harnessing elements such as technology, internet access, interoperable signalling, and presenting more information to passengers,” says Eriau.