Back on track

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Travelling between Pretoria and Cape Town, the Blue Train is South Africa’s best known railway service. It now looks set to share the country’s rails with over a thousand somewhat less luxurious trains.

Last week Transnet, South Africa’s state-owned logistics company, announced a massive contract to buy 599 electric trains and 465 diesel trains over the next seven years. The $4.7 billion deal will be split between Chinese trainmakers CSR Corp and CNR Corp, as well as GE and Bombardier.

Transnet CEO Brian Molefe said the decision to divide the purchase was because “no single supplier would have the capacity or resources to deliver within the timelines envisaged”.

This will be welcome news for the two Chinese train firms after a more disappointing time in Thailand. Last October, Beijing signed a deal with Bangkok to build a high-speed rail link in the Southeast Asian country for which the Thais would pay with exports of rice to China. However, the arrangement was cancelled earlier this month. A scandal in the Thai rice subsidy programme may have been partly to blame, although CBN thinks another reason the programme derailed is because the Thais fell out with the Chinese over the proposed route. A Thai transport ministry official said it now plans to take tenders later this year for construction of a $7.4 billion bullet line between Bangkok and Phitsanulok (with a second phase of track intended to reach Chang Mai in the northwest).

But CBN suggests that Chinese planners were keener to finance a line that linked Phachi to Nong Khai (in the northeast of the country, bordering Laos), so as to be better able to connect Thailand by rail with China’s Yunnan province.

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