Ansys eyes African rail signal market

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 22 Mar 2007

The African railway signals and control market is worth "hundreds-of-million" of rands, says Ansys Integrated Systems MD Alan Holloway.

"That is my impression, it is not a fact, necessarily," he adds. He says SA's signalling system is decades old and needs replacing - which will happen under a Spoornet recapitalisation plan now under way. Opportunity also abounds elsewhere in Africa.

"SA's signalling systems are really old - at least 30 years - and some are still manual," Holloway says. Transnet and Metrorail plan to improve rail infrastructure over the next decade, he adds. It will cost "billions or at least many hundreds-of-millions" to rejuvenate the signalling system, he notes.

Botswana and Zimbabwe, he says, are better off. "They have newer [systems] than we've got."

Holloway believes concessionaries operating railway lines in East Africa and elsewhere on the continent have an imperative to upgrade the signalling systems they inherited. "Typically, they want to make money. There is a strong imperative to make the line efficient. There is a definite market for us to make their lines so."

Excluding China, there are at least seven Western companies vying for the market. "Siemens and Alstom are the incumbents," he says.

New players are Bombardier, which is already in SA and has the Gautrain signalling contract, as well as General Electric, Alcatel Westinghouse, and Union Switch and Signals.

Formidable competitor

Then there are the Chinese. "They are a player... They will play a big role in Angola. When it comes to big projects, they can quote extremely competitively," Holloway says. "China is absolutely a formidable competitor."

He says Ansys recently bought hot bearing detectors made by VEIC Harbin. "We had an excellent experience with them."

Buyers, Holloway says, must note a distinctive difference in approach between European and US-Australian manufacturers. "In Europe, the focus is on interoperability - with several operators using the same lines, passenger travel and high-speed. They are less accommodating of accidents. As a result, their systems are very safe and capable, but expensive. In the US and Australia, the accent is more on freight and this takes place at lower speed."

In those countries, interoperability is less of an issue and signalling is simpler and less expensive. "Our assessment is that SA, or at least Spoornet, falls in that category. That's why we went to the Australians" and forged an alliance with Westinghouse Rail Systems Australia.

"Obviously, Metrorail would want the better signalling equipment, as one cannot compromise on human life." He notes Metrorail has some dedicated lines and shares others with Spoornet. "You have to be careful what you install in which corridors," he advises.

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Ansys wins R60m Spoornet order
UK railways implement SA tech