IT was a case of rail meets road as President Jacob Zuma celebrated the launch of a new automotive rail wagon in Uitenhage yesterday.
An investment of R400-million by Transnet in building the new automotive wagons is set to change the transportation landscape in the country.
In high spirits, Zuma took part in the colourful launch and factory tour of the Transnet Engineering (TE) wagons facility in Uitenhage and celebrated the beginning of a “new” marriage between the vehicle manufacturing industry and the government’s rail transport company.
The state-of-the-art wagons, valued at about R1.36-million each and able to carry up to eight sedans or four SUVs, are not only being produced for the use of vehicle manufacturers in South Africa, but are also to be shipped to the rest of Africa to transport vehicles.
The first 350 automotive wagons for South African use would be completed in January while an additional 500 wagons would be shipped to Botswana and a consignment was planned for Mozambique, TE chief executive Richard Vallihu said.
“Uitenhage is our wagons facility of choice because it is close to the harbours for export purposes. We make about 14 automotive wagons per week and are two months ahead of schedule.”
Vallihu said an additional 100 jobs had been created with the manufacturing of the new automotive rail wagons at the TE wagons facility in Uitenhage, which employs 1900 permanent staffers.
Describing Uitenhage as the “heartland of the country’s automotive sector”, Zuma said the Eastern Cape was central to the government’s plans to strengthen freight transport and logistics countrywide.
He said another reason why the province was the ideal place for manufacturing the new wagons was because of the high unemployment rate.
Constantly making jokes in Xhosa, Zuma told the Transnet workers attending the launch that he was particularly surprised that during his tour of the facility he noticed many female workers operating cranes and carrying steel around.
“It shows you that a woman can do any job a man can do in this country,” he said to loud applause and ululation.
“I have never seen such an excited work force,” he said, adding that people would soon have no reason to migrate to other provinces with all the infrastructure employment opportunities opening up in the Eastern Cape.
The Port Elizabeth and Ngqura harbours were positioning themselves as “key logistics hubs for both the Eastern Cape and Gauteng”, with especially Ngqura becoming a major international transshipment hub. Automotive exports accounted for 12.1% of South Africa’s total exports last year.
Acting premier and Eastern Cape Finance and Planning MEC Phumulo Masualle said as the automotive sector continued to grow, so would the province and he referred to the automotive wagons investment as a “key strategic infrastructure project for the region and province”.
Other dignitaries at the launch included Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Ben Fihla, Local Government MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane, Economic Development MEC Mcebisi Jonas and representatives of Transnet and local automotive companies.
Volkswagen Group SA communications manager Matt Gennrich welcomed the improved, covered rail wagons. “By making use of rail we improve our green footprint and we are pleased with the improvements of the new wagons,” he said.
General Motors South Africa logistics manager Celestin Ndhlovu said the new wagons would offer improved stability in terms of transporting more vehicles as a part of the company’s road-to-rail strategy.
“The new wagons will help with the transportation of SUVs, which could not fit into the old rail wagons.”
The new wagons have additional lighting, and Transnet has implemented 24-hour operations. The average automotive train length will increase from 25 wagons to 45.
Transnet will spend R300-billion on infrastructure projects over the next seven years, of which R26-billion will be invested in the Eastern Cape economy for the upgrading of harbours and rail hubs.
Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber president Mandla Madwara welcomed the new wagons and said this type of public-private partnership was exactly what the region needed.
“It is a mutually beneficial investment that will grow our economy. The R26-billion investment into rail and port infrastructure offers great opportunities for local businesses and entrepreneurs to … take advantage of the localisation of suppliers. We have exciting times ahead.”