Keeping the wagons rolling The world’s longest train is growing longer still.
azlie Tobias is regional operations executive, Wagon Maintenance, for the Western Region of Transnet Rail Engineering (TRE). Western Cape Business met with her in the Salt River offices of TRE at a time when the Transnet Group was confirming locomotive tenders with US and Chinese companies, issuing massive tenders for coaches, and generally ramping up its capital expenditure programme towards the R300-billion that will eventually flow into South Africa’s rail network. Nazlie is very clear how she feels about her role within the plan. ‘Very proud’, she says. She has seen so much positive change in her time with TRE that ‘it is very encouraging and motivating to be an employee and a manager at this time.’ The staff who work with Nazlie share her sentiments, and have a great deal of pride that the economy is moving, not just in their small area, but also the economy as a whole. Staff WESTERN CAPE BUSINESS 2013
members are keen to know more, and are eager to contribute. Some of Nazlie’s student friends were puzzled when she announced that she was going to become an ‘ysterman’ (iron man) working on the railways. Convention had it that she didn’t have the appropriate ‘look’, but she is now an executive manager for an entire region in a vital part of the railway network – wagon maintenance. The Western Region encompasses Bloemfontein, Kimberley, Posmasburg, East London, Port Elizabeth, Salt River, Saldanha and Bellville. Transnet’s Market Demand Strategy (MDS) is pouring money into new wagons, locomotives and coaches. The wagon-maintenance business in Saldanha supports the longest train in the world on the iron-ore line from Sishen in the Northern Cape. As Nazlie recounts, ‘Two years ago, we used to
photo: Railways africa
The iron-ore train on the Saldanha-Sishen railway line is the longest daily production train in the world.
focus work on 5 100 wagons; this year we are responsible for 6 200 wagons, to support the transport of 62 million tons of iron ore. ‘By year five, we will be maintaining 8 400 wagons to support coal volumes of 82.5 million tons.’ With Transnet’s factories ramping up to full production, other facilities have to step up in support. Bellville was, until recently, solely a maintenance depot, but it is being converted into a mini-factory. Bellville’s first task is the upgrading and modification of 200 wagons for coal and dolomite (the CGR design) and Namakwa Sands (the FKMJ).
Capital investment is needed: rail lines currently don’t run through every part of the plant and higher tonnage cranes are needed. ‘We are very excited that Bellville will be changing,’ says Nazlie. ‘We are small at the moment, but as we establish skills and capacity in moving up from maintenance to mini-factory status, we will grow’. Nazlie cautions that there will not be an immediate spike in employment. ‘As we put new wagons into the system, they are not immediately required for maintenance. As the years continue, then we will grow.’
From shop floor to manager Nazlie Tobias has honours degrees in Commerce and the Arts from the University of the Western Cape. She started as a graduatein-training in 1999. How did your journey start with Transnet? I came in as a trainee in Human Resources 12 years ago, when I was in my second year of BCom, majoring in management and human resources. In Transnet at that time there was a focus on bringing in females. I was one of five. Now there are many more. Which section did you work in? I was in Human Resources for two years. That’s when I became interested in the operational business. I got promoted to customer services manager in the Rotating Machines Business, where the main customer was Metrorail and Spoornet. And did you move back to HR or stay in operations? I became the local business manager of Rotating Machines here in Salt River. What was your first exposure to Operations? When I came here as a trainee, my first exposure was on the shop floor of the coaches business. In the paint shop, I liaised with the supervisors and monitored the outflow. To really add value on the HR side, I had to
understand the shop floor. That was my early exposure to Operations, not knowing that I would end up in Operations. What steps followed your promotion to local business manager in 2006? In 2008, I became the regional operations executive for Locomotives. Then, in 2010, I took on my current position at Wagons Maintenance.
Nazlie Tobias, Regional Operations Executive, Wagons Maintenance, Western Region.
How was working in a railyard different to the expectations you had as a student? When you are a young woman at university, you don’t even know what a railyard looks like. When you are studying BCom, you think you are going to sit in a glossy skyscraper doing business when you are qualified. I was pleasantly surprised and excited. And from then to now, this facility has grown so much: the infrastructure, the diversity, the work. It is all quite different from then to now, but a positive and exciting difference.
WESTERN CAPE BUSINESS 2013
The world’s longest train is growing longer still.