Pretoria - Government on Thursday formally invited manufacturers in South Africa and the world to submit their bids to win the right to build 7 224 metro coaches estimated at R123 billion.
These are modern trains that will be built in South Africa with the aim of revitalizing the country's ailing rail system. An estimated 65 000 jobs are expected to be created as a new generation of railway workers, in the form of engineers and artisans, come to the fore.
Speaking at the event in Johannesburg, Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele conceded that improvements in the country's public transport systems, particularly rail, remain crucial to South Africa's economy.
At the moment, the current rolling stock is old, with the majority of the current coaches built in the 1960's and 1970's, and still being driven by old technology.
"Our rail system has reached the end of its design life. The system, defined in terms of technology, operations, service design and skills, is no longer able to meet passenger expectations and economic demands effectively, and is at a stage where it has to be replaced," Ndebele said.
South Africa needed a revolution in its rail system and public transport system.
In his budget earlier this year, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced an additional R4 billion allocation to PRASA for the acquisition of new rolling stock, and R1 billion for the construction of new train depots and signaling infrastructure.
The allocations signal the start of the roll-out allocation of the R123 billion for new rolling stock acquisition, and R14.5 billion for new rail signaling, already set aside by government last year.
The New Rolling Stock Programme is set to continue for the next 20 years.
On Thursday, Ndebele said the new trains the State was purchasing represented a radical break with the past and the introduction of new technology.
They will be similar to trains seen in major cities of the world and many developed countries.
"These modern trains are commonly defined by greater passenger mobility, automatic train protection and high quality of crashworthiness as critical safety features: carrying capacity is high, they are energy efficient and very light, largely based on aluminum rather than heavy steel."
The investment would, over time, achieve significant economic benefits for the country as well as benefits of an efficient transport system.
Ndebele said he was confident that government, through the Integrated Rapid Public Transport Networks (IRPTNs), had developed concrete plans for each of the major cities, and had started implementing strategies that would ensure that it delivered integrated quality public transport by 2015.
He said PRASA's Rolling Stock Fleet Renewal Programme would serve as the catalyst for government's comprehensive passenger rail programme over the next 30 years.
"We will implement over the next decade a number of rail interventions, aimed at putting rail as the backbone of our passenger transport system."
In the medium term, the department envisages a change in the manner in which the rail network is managed so that it contributes to meet the demands of modern times.
Drastic improvements were on the cards for passenger fleet such as Shosholoza Meyl to bring back more reliability and reduce by half the travel times in key corridors such as Pretoria-Polokwane-Musina and Johannesburg-Durban.
"It is important that the train should be the fastest, moving at an average speed of 160km on the current network," said Ndebele, adding that a train travelling at 160km must be faster than a car, taxi and bus, which by law are required to travel at not more than 120km/h.