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Digitisation of SA rail services overtaking most advanced economies

The passenger rail system of South Africa (Prasa) is undertaking a comprehensive digital upgrade, which includes a partnership with Siemens.

The electrical engineering company is implementing a new high tech solution to a dated rail service, which will allow South Africa to leapfrog some of the most advanced global economies.

Sabine Dall’Omo, the CEO of Siemens South Africa, outlined how the new operation compares, “In Germany the system is much older… For Prasa, we did a full digital solution that basically brings Africa and South Africa right on top of state-of-the-art technology.”

The investment worth R3.4 billion million has allowed 16 of Prasa’s 92 signalling stations in the Gauteng province to undergo various upgrades with more upgrades expected by 2019.

“The most significant developments of the digitisation are the direct connection, direct communication, between the train and the signalling station… There were significant adjustments to be done to the track to accommodate the signalling technology. Everything is on fibre optic so you have less vandalism and the communication is through the GPRS network,” added Dall’Omo.

Siemens Gauteng Nerve Centre

One of Siemens’ assignments for South Arica’s largest signalling project included intelligent high tech solutions. The Gauteng Nerve Centre, a core component of the Gauteng Resignaling Project was officially launched in October 2015.

As part of the Prasa re-capitalisation program, Siemens was commissioned to build a new command centre bringing together all the existing control rooms to one location.

The heart of the centre, the command rooms is equipped with a 52m long video wall used for the monitoring of train movements and the display of the traction electrical supply as well as weather and other operational information.

The train movements are controlled from 30 multi-screen workstations each equipped with an integrated communication module which consolidates telephone, trunk radio and GSMR communication.

“Most of the train stations in the Johannesburg and Pretoria area comprised of old signalling systems that were far beyond their life expectancy, with some of them dating back to the 1930’s,” said Collin Naidoo of Prasa, who attended the Africa Rail Summit.

“Gauteng witnessed increase rail traffic during recent years and the existing signalling system was no longer reliable for processing and monitoring the train movements consistently and efficiently. The consequence of this was a high maintenance cost and unexpected train delays.

“As part of Prasa’s drive to deliver a world class commuter railway system, we were commissioned to install a new signalling system over the complete Prasa network in the Gauteng region as well as to build a state of the art centrally controlled operations centre, now known as the Gauteng Nerve Centre.”

Piet Sebola, Strategic Asset Development Group Executive at Prasa, said that the state-owned company has acknowledged previous concerns about management and copper cable theft to try and fix South Africa’s transport issues, “We have accepted that criticism and we have acknowledged it for many years… We are driven by lowering the cost of travel for the lower end of the market that we serve.”

With Prasa servicing 2.2 million people every day in South Africa, improving efficiency is a key component of the redevelopment as the wait for a train can be between 20 and 35 minutes off peak.

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