Bombardier Transportation UK and the Strategic Partners Group (SPG) on Friday officially launched its joint-venture tracklaying contracting company, Isithimela Rail Services.

The company, which is jointly owned by the two Gautrain stakeholders, had been subcontracted to complete the track works aspects of the rapid-rail project in a contract worth R820-million.

Isithimela would lay down about 150 km of ballasted and ballastless rail tracks for the project, with 7 km of this already completed at the Midrand depot. Work on the Gautrain main line has also started.

Isithimela CEO David Cottrell said that the company would be responsible for a number of aspects, including the supply of materials for the installation works and providing the plant and equipment to execute the track works, among other things.

It likely would also be appointed to conduct the track maintenance when the rapid-rail project was completed.

He noted that Isithimela would, as far as possible, recruit local staff and procure materials and equipment from local suppliers.

Bombardier had seconded skilled staff and management to the company to ensure the transfer of skills to the more than 200 local employees.

Bombardier Transportation South Africa vice-president Dave Barry commented that the project ensured that a tremendous amount of success in terms of economic empowerment and socioeconomic development had already been achieved.

He noted the importance of historically disadvantaged individuals becoming skilled through Isithimela, calling the project a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) success story.

Gauteng MEC for Public Transport, Roads and Works Ignatius Jacobs added that Isithimela was one of about 170 SMEs that had benefited from the Gautrain project, to date.

Meanwhile, Gautrain Management Agency CEO Jack van der Merwe said that transformation and empowerment had to leave a legacy.

He asserted that Isithimela had to create careers and had to compete with other national and international companies.

“South Africa is hungry for rail projects,” he stated, saying that other rapid-rail projects, such as the one proposed between KwaNdebele, in Mpumalanga, and Pretoria, would be good future opportunities for Isithimela to tender for.

BEYOND GAUTRAIN

Meanwhile, SPG chairperson Mzolisi Diliza asserted that it was particularly gratifying to launch a new company, which could potentially create wealth and employment for South Africans, during a time of such global economic uncertainty.

He added that the company would put the skills it acquired through this partnership to good use in other African countries.

Diliza noted that while the Gautrain project was key to its success, Isithimela had already looked beyond the project for further opportunities.

He stated that South Africa’s national rail network stretched about 20 000 km, which offered it the opportunity to tender for maintenance work in the future.

Further, he said that there were also thousands of kilometres of private sidings used by mining and industrial companies, which would offer Isithimela potential maintenance and services work.

In addition, Diliza said that the opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa were “huge”.