Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa and Gibela, a south African transport company 61 percent owned by Alstom, said on Monday they have signed a $5.1 billion (R51 billion) joint venture contract for Gibela to supply 600 passenger trains, including the construction of a local manufacturing facility, to be delivered to PRASA between 2015 and 2025.

“Alstom is proud to have been selected by PRASA for a project of this magnitude. We are fully committed to mobilising the best of our technology and expertise through our South African joint venture Gibela and we believe our trains will set a high standard in serving the interests of commuters,” said Henri Poupart-Lafarge, Presidentof Alstom Transport.

According to the deal, signed by PRASA Group CEO, Lucky Montana, Alstom Chairman and CEO Patrick Kron, and Henri Poupart-Lafarge, President of Alstom Transport, in addition to this contract, Gibela will provide technical support and supply equipments over an 18-year period.

The project, one of the biggest in rail transport worldwide and the largest contract ever signed in Alstom’s history, is part of PRASA’s aim to revitalize the rail industry, create jobs and provide efficient, reliable and safe public transport in South Africa.

This ambitious program was launched by the South African government in 2010 to respond to the growing number of commuters in the country. The project will replace the ageing suburban trains in service in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, with 1 200 electric trains over a period of 20 years.

PRASA Chief Executive officer Lucky Montana said, “The PRASA fleet renewal programme is the catalyst for the transformation of Metrorail services and public transport in South Africa as a whole. It is the beginning of the roll-out of government’s comprehensive rail programme. While the urgent challenge to improve passenger services remains primary, the rolling stock programme has been designed to achieve government’s objectives of developing skills, creating jobs and delivering quality services to citizens.”

Gibela will build a manufacturing site in Ekurhuleni, east of Johannesburg, to produce the trains in South Africa. The manufacturing facility will also house an engineering center and a training facility.

The new trains, X’Trapolis model, will be designed by Alstom to fit the 1.067 meter gauge in South Africa and is environmentally friendly at a 95 percent recyclability rate. The train will be equipped with air conditioning, ergonomic seats, real-time on-board information, Wi-Fi internet access and a combination of direct and indirect lighting to increase the feeling of space. Additionally, the company said the model includes an enhanced door system to provide better accessibility for passengers with reduced mobility and full-length connecting gangways for improved fluidity.

It will be made of stainless steel car body-shell to reduce the weight of the train and its electrical braking capacity enables a significant reduction in energy consumption.

The train can travel at speeds of up to 120 km/h with the ability to be upgraded to 160 km/h. Each single-deck train is composed of six cars and is able to carry more than 1300 passengers. Thanks to the modularity of X’Trapolis, PRASA will be able to adjust the configuration of the train depending on the number of commuters (from 4 to 6 cars with the option of having the set coupled).

The companies said construction is expected to start in early 2014, once the deal closes at the end of this year in December and the factory is due to be active in 2015. The project will create over 1500 direct jobs in the local factory and 33,000 indirect jobs over the first 10 years, achieving a local-content level of over 65 percent.

The first 20 trains will be manufactured in Lapa, Brazil. Alstom’s French sites Ornans, Tarbes, Villeurbanne and Saint-Ouen will be involved in the project over the long term.

PRASA was established in 2008 as a result of consolidation of the various entities (Metrorail, Autopax, Shosholoza Meyl and Intersite) into PRASA from what were the South African Rail Commuter Corporation and Transnet.

Through the rolling stock program, PRASA, is in the process to procure approximately 7224 new rolling stock with a projected investment of 123 Billion Rand over a period of 20 years. The procurement of the rolling stock is being done in two phases, with the first phase of the program being launched yesterday.