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

The Pas­sen­ger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) and Transnet are work­ing to­gether to fix what would have po­ten­tially been a haz­ardous sit­u­a­tion caused by Prasa or­der­ing lo­co­mo­tives be­yond the per­mis­si­ble safe clear­ance height to avoid elec­tri­cal over­head wires on lo­cal rail­way lines. Sources close to the process say the two state-owned rail com­pa­nies have al­ready ad­justed some of the over­head elec­tri­cal wires on key routes to al­low the new Afro 4000 lo­cos to pass safely be­neath them.

But it seems the Afro 4000s will no longer be used on at least one of the routes they were orig­i­nally in­tended to run on.

Rap­port re­vealed in July that Prasa – un­der the lead­er­ship of the now axed CEO Lucky Mon­tana and “Dr” Daniel Mtimkulu – its dis­cred­ited for­mer head engi­neer who was outed as hav­ing lied about his qual­i­fi­ca­tions – had pur­chased the diesel lo­cos from Span­ish man­u­fac­turer Voss­loh Es­paña, de­spite warn­ings that they were too tall for lo­cal rail­way lines.

The stan­dard roof height for trains in South Africa is 3.96m, while the Afro 4000 is 4.14m high.

A clear­ance of 15cm be­tween any rolling stock and the over­head wires on the coun­try’s 3 Kilo­Volt (kV) elec­tri­fied lines, and a 30cm clear­ance on the 25kV lines, is im­posed to mit­i­gate the risk of elec­tro­cu­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to emails and doc­u­ments in which Prasa’s new lo­co­mo­tives are dis­cussed by both Transnet and Prasa engi­neers, the Afro 4000s would en­croach into these clear­ance ar­eas and pose sig­nif­i­cant safety risks on some of the routes they were sup­posed to run on.

The paras­tatals are now “mak­ing the best” of the sit­u­a­tion by ad­just­ing some of the con­tact wires, the sources say. Do you think Prasa and Transnet Freight Rail will suc­ceed in fix­ing hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres of over­head elec­tri­cal wires to en­able the new Afro 4000 to pass be­neath them safely? SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word PRASA and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name. SMSes cost R1.50 Rap­port this week asked Prasa for clar­ity on where such prob­lem spots were lo­cated, what it would cost to make the nec­es­sary ad­just­ments to the over­head wires and how long it would take.

Sipho Sithole, Prasa’s chief strat­egy of­fi­cer and act­ing spokesper­son, con­firmed that “there are on­go­ing dis­cus­sions with Transnet Freight Rail ... aimed at ad­dress­ing out­stand­ing test­ing and com­mis­sion­ing is­sues in or­der to agree on the op­er­a­tional in­tro­duc­tion of the Afro 4000”. He said Prasa was “not in a po­si­tion to pro­vide the re­quested in­for­ma­tion [around the cost of the ad­just­ments and the lo­ca­tions of the af­fected con­tact wires] at this stage, as this is part of on­go­ing dis­cus­sions with Transnet Freight Rail”.

The dis­cus­sions are “part of the nor­mal process be­tween the two par­ties when new rolling stock is in­tro­duced to the net­work”, main­tained Sithole.

Transnet Freight Rail this week re­fused to com­ment on its work with Prasa on the lo­co­mo­tives.

In July, its spokesper­son, Sandile Sime­lane, said: “Transnet Freight Rail has bi­lat­eral agree­ments with Prasa on a range of is­sues, in­clud­ing net­work shar­ing, and oth­ers. The two com­pa­nies en­gage on a fre­quent ba­sis on any mat­ter that af­fects us in what­so­ever way through the des­ig­nated chan­nels and fo­rums es­tab­lished be­tween the com­pa­nies.”

But the emails in which the paras­tatals’ engi­neers dis­cussed the in­tro­duc­tion of the Afro 4000 on some of the in­tended routes paint a dif­fer­ent pic­ture.

The use of the Afro 4000 on the rail line be­tween the Pre­to­ria sta­tion and Pyra­mid North, some 25km to the north of the city, was “a risky op­er­a­tion” be­cause “the heated ex­haust gas gets dis­charged so close to the live wire”, reads one email. A sec­ond email ex­plains the prob­lems the Afro 4000s would en­counter if they were used on the Pre­to­ria-to-Polok­wane route.

The stretch of 45km be­tween the Pyra­mid North sta­tion and Pien­aarsriv­ier in Lim­popo has eight lo­ca­tions where the clear­ance be­tween the Afro 4000’s roof and the con­tact wires would be less than 25cm on this 25kV line.

“The Pyra­mid North to Pien­aarsriv­ier clear­ance prob­lem for the Afro 4000 is even worse than [on the] Pre­to­ria to Pyra­mid North [line],” reads the email.

Prasa did not com­ment on the me­chan­i­cal prob­lems al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced by two of the 13 Afro 4000s that had so far been de­liv­ered to the rail agency.

Rap­port re­vealed in July that Afros num­ber 4005 and 4013 were al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing prob­lems with their bear­ing hous­ings.

A let­ter from Voss­loh to Prasa men­tion­ing the “bear­ing hous­ing is­sue” en­coun­tered on these two lo­co­mo­tives pro­vided in­struc­tions on how to haul the lo­cos from Cape Town to Johannesburg, see­ing “as Prasa [doesn’t have] the needed [fa­cil­i­ties] to re­pair the af­fected [lo­co­mo­tives] in Cape Town,” reads the let­ter.

Voss­loh’s lo­cal of­fice re­fused to com­ment.

Lucky Mon­tana

Daniel Mtimkulu

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