CityPress - - News - PI­ETER-LOUIS MY­BURGH news@city­press.co.za

rasa’s own engi­neers warned in a re­port that its new Afro 4000 diesel lo­co­mo­tives, which were bought from Spain at a cost of R600 mil­lion, could come so close to over­head power lines in cer­tain parts of the coun­try’s poorly main­tained rail­way lines that they could pose a sig­nif­i­cant safety haz­ard.

City Press’ sis­ter pub­li­ca­tion, Rap­port, has also es­tab­lished that the Pas­sen­ger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) sent an “SOS” mes­sage in en­gi­neer­ing terms to Spain on Novem­ber 5 2013 to ask whether the ex­pen­sive lo­co­mo­tives, which had been or­dered eight months pre­vi­ously, could not be low­ered fur­ther.

Prasa wanted a lo­co­mo­tive, which now stands 4 140mm high, and ac­cord­ing to the ini­tial or­der would have been 4 264mm high, to be low­ered to 3 965mm, the max­i­mum height for this type of train in South Africa.

But Voss­loh Es­paña said in a let­ter, which Rap­port ob­tained, that the Prasa re­quest was un­for­tu­nately not pos­si­ble.

“Although it is not pos­si­ble to re­duce Euro 4000 lo­co­mo­tives’ height be­low 4 140mm ... it is un­der­stood that with ac­tual height and with the in­for­ma­tion we man­age, the lo­co­mo­tives should be ac­cept­able for oper­a­tions on South African tracks,” says Voss­loh’s let­ter to Prasa, sent in late 2013.

Barely a week later, Prasa went ahead and paid R468 mil­lion for the first lo­co­mo­tives.

In March this year, Transnet Freight Rail gen­eral man­ager Cae­sar Mtetwa wrote to to Prasa’s chief engi­neer, Dr Daniel Mtimkulu, stat­ing the Afro 4000 ex­ceeded the per­mit­ted height limit for Transnet’s rail sys­tem.

Prasa in­sisted this past week that the coun­try’s over­head power lines were at least 4.5 me­tres above the rail tracks and the Afro 4000 would pass be­neath them com­fort­ably.

Prasa head Lucky Mon­tana also re­ferred to a re­port by the Univer­sity of Stel­len­bosch that said the Afro 4000 would func­tion safely un­der power lines 4.5m high.

The univer­sity later said in a state­ment, how­ever, they had never con­firmed that the Afro 4000 was safe un­der “all” rail­way con­di­tions.

City Press now un­der­stands that although the power lines are sup­posed to be no lower than 4.5m, as they were in many of Prasa and the univer­sity’s tests, there are many places in the coun­try where, be­cause of poor main­te­nance, over­head wires are much lower than they should be.

In Prasa’s own re­port of Fe­bru­ary 2014 they pointed out four places where the lines are as low as 4.22m: “The height of the lo­co­mo­tive en­croaches too close to the con­tact wire driver ex­po­sure risk fac­tor is high,” said the Prasa doc­u­ment.

The nor­mally ac­cepted safe dis­tance be­tween the lo­co­mo­tive roof and ca­bles is at least 150mm.

At the Den­ver bridge near Johannesburg, for ex­am­ple, there will only be 10mm be­tween the Afro 4000’s roof and high-ten­sion elec­tri­cal ca­bles, which poses an “op­er­a­tional elec­tri­cal risk”, ac­cord­ing to Prasa’s own engi­neers.

Ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, the main­te­nance on both Transnet and Prasa’s rail lines is in a such a poor state that power lines will have to be raised to pro­vide for the Afro 4000.

The engi­neer rec­om­mends a “de­sign re­view” and that the de­liv­ery of the Afro 4000 be de­layed.

City Press un­der­stands that ca­bles that are too low could be lifted. It is un­clear what it would cost, how­ever.

Prasa also boasted last week that the train had al­ready trav­elled safely be­tween Cape Town and Johannesburg from the Cape Town Jazz Fes­ti­val.

But a let­ter from Transnet, which Rap­port has also ob­tained, shows that the jour­ney did not go en­tirely smoothly.

In an e-mail by a Transnet of­fi­cial sent to some 20 em­ploy­ees of Transnet and Prasa late in March, Prasa is crit­i­cised be­cause it pulled a premier-class train on the way back from the jazz fes­ti­val to Johannesburg with an Afro 4000 with­out the re­quired au­tho­ri­sa­tion from Transnet.

“No no­tice / YQ [ jar­gon mean­ing clear­ance] was is­sued for such a move [the jour­ney]. Please ar­range for the


HEIGHT OF TROU­BLE Prasa pur­chased the new lo­co­mo­tives for long-dis­tance use. These lo­co­mo­tives were seen on Thurs­day last week in Johannesburg

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