The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) has awarded information and communications technology giant Huawei a R458-million contract to supply a digital radio communications system for its passenger trains and associated infrastructure.
The Global System for Mobile Communications - Railway (GSM-R) would enable improved communication quality and reliability between train operators and control centres through the provision of a wireless digital communications system on around 1 200 km of South Africa’s commuter rail network.
The contract would see Huawei partnering with local black economic-empowerment firms and information technology firm Altech Technology to ensure some 36%, or R173-million worth of localisation through the local assembly of key components and ongoing maintenance.
Prasa CEO Lucky Montana said the system would mitigate the risks associated with driver error, thus reducing the risk of accidents, as well as improve the punctuality and reliability of trains through uninterrupted communications between driver and control centre.
“The GSMR, which is the global standard, will ensure that Prasa conforms to global best practise and will direct South Africa towards a future where public transport will be more reliable and safer,” he told a media briefing on Thursday.
He added that the improved communication infrastructure would enable the agency to achieve its objective of restoring public confidence in the local rail network.
This was a reference to the collision of two Prasa trains in January, during which 300 passengers were injured.
The awarding of the GSMR came a day after Prasa announced that the Bombardier Africa Alliance consortium had won a R1.1-billion contract to complete a conventional mainline resignalling project, in KwaZulu-Natal, as part of Prasa’s large-scale modernisation and upgrade programme.
The rolling out of the GSMR would coincide with the nationwide rehaul of this signalling system.
Besides Prasa's R123.5-billion investment in a rolling stock fleet renewal programme aimed at procuring new trains for its Metrorail service, the parastatal was simultaneously investing in the upgrade and construction of infrastructure to support the rolling stock investment.
The first phase of the communications improvement project, worth some R185-million and expected to take 18 months to complete, would start within 60 days and would initially entail the roll-out of a communications system for drivers.
Phase 2 would involve upgrading the train control system itself, enabling the rolling stock to be automatically driven and reducing the driver’s role to one of supervision of the system.
Full roll-out was expected by 2015.