It’s time for Africa
The future of Africa’s rail industry is looking bright; with a local company receiving international certification, and more focus being placed on the operating efficiencies of our country’s railways …
The South African railway network is the largest in Africa and the tenth largest in the world, with approximately 25 000 km of track – according to the Passenger Rail Association of South Africa (Prasa).
With various initiatives currently being undertaken by the state to ease traffic congestion and address the general state of (or lack of, in many instances) road infrastructure, a possible intervention is to enhance the operating efficiency of the country’s railways.
Willem Sprong, technical executive of electrical engineering at GIBB, one of South Africa’s leading black-owned engineering and consulting firms, stresses that the country’s railway system is an infrastructure requirement that cannot be overlooked.
“The government is aware of the importance of rail transport as a viable long-term alternative to road transport,” Sprong points out.
“The railway industry is, however, characterised by major incidents that impact on operators, clients and the environment. For the rail industry to improve its efficiency, progress and grow, it needs a regulatory framework that will assure the public that the railways are safe, reliable and efficient.”
He adds that a drive towards risk-based regulation targets is essential for efficiency gains. “Risk analysis needs to focus on the probability of an event occurring – and its impact if it does occur. Regulators must align their priorities and regulatory activity with the highest possible risk, as well as with the potential for improvement.”
He continues: “The risk-based approach combines checking legal compliance with proactively pushing for management excellence. The one cannot be implemented without the other; the two strategies are complementary to each other.”
Local steel processing company, VR Laser Services, is a stellar example of a company that is pushing for management excellence. It has become the first African company to receive an international certification, placing it at the forefront of the continent’s rail infrastructure programme.
VR Laser manufactures steel products for a variety of end-users in the defence, mining, rail and transport sectors. Having just received its EN15085 certification (which regulates the welding management system of manufacturers in the rail industry), it is now able to construct, manufacture and test welded railway locomotives and components to international standards.
The company received its EN15085 certification from the German auditing firm DVS-ZERT. The certification conforms to stringent, global standards. During the audit process, local authorities, such as the Southern African Institute of Welding (SAIW), engaged with the auditors to ensure rigorous international testing standards were applied.
VR Laser’s CEO, Pieter van der Merwe, says the issuing of EN15085 makes the company globally competitive.
“The certification is significant in that it allows VR Laser to fabricate components for the railway industry to European standards. Besides being utilised by European designers, these standards are also utilised by the Chinese. Within Europe it is a legal requirement to manufacture according to the code.”
He adds that VR Laser’s certification means that Transnet and Prasa can now use a local manufacturer – armed with the necessary skills and qualifications – instead of importing railway parts and components.
“It is a major boost for local manufacturing, as we are able to offer a local world-class alternative to off-shore companies. VR Laser is the only EN15085-CL2-certified company that can now legally supply various fabricated components for both Transnet and Prasa projects.” (A CL2 company refers to one that is able to provide higher-grade stress testing of components.)
The CEO for certification at the SAIW, Herman Potgieter, says: “VR Laser’s EN15085 certification is an important achievement that cannot be underestimated.
He confirms that VR Laser is the only South African firm of its size that has the necessary skills set and manufacturing expertise to acquire EN15085. “It will save us money in the long run, as there will be no import costs and currency exchange issues.”
Van der Merwe adds: “Manufacturing and localisation are key aspects of government’s National Development Plan (NDP). Its infrastructure programme is aligned with the upliftment and growth of the local manufacturing sector. Thus, for a company like ours to now be able to compete with our international competitors falls in line with the intentions of the NDP.”
He concludes: “We realised when working with international clients, that South Africa has the skills and know-how to compete with any country in the world. The secret, however, is to work hard and to have faith in local talent in order to unlock our manufacturing potential.”