Rapport article on 'R600m train blunder' grossly inaccurate - PRASA

Agency says new diesel locomotives do not exceed the height restrictions on long distance lines

PRASA rejects false and grossly inaccurate Rapport article on new locomotives

7 July 2015

On Sunday, Rapport, an Afrikaans newspaper, published a grossly misleading article in which it claimed the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) had committed what seemed to be the “country's largest and most expensive tender blunder” with the procurement of 70 diesel locomotives because the cars exceed the height restriction for them to be used in the country.

The article stated the following:

1. That 13 of the 70 AFRO4000 locomotives which PRASA has so far received have a roof height of 4 264mm while the maximum height for diesel locomotives may not exceed 3 965mm.
2. That PRASA was warned about that the locomotives were too high even before they started arriving in the country.
3. That PRASA carried on with the contract despite warnings from faceless senior Transnet engineers.
4. That the locomotives could damage the overhead electrical cables on the country's rail lines.

The article is grossly inaccurate, it is false and we reject it.

The article claims that the new AFRO4000 locomotives exceed the height restrictions for diesel locomotives on long distance lines based on information provided by anonymous railway engineers. This claim is completely devoid of facts as the new locomotives comply with the applicable Transnet Freight Rail Electrical Safety Instructions signed by both PRASA and Transnet in 2012 as well as the Rolling Stock Electrical Safety Instructions (2000). The 2012 Electrical Safety Instruction Specification supersedes all previous specifications.

The instruction specifies that the normal height between rail and electrical wire for 3kv and 25kv network is 5.0m and the minimum is 4.5m. The Safety Instruction allows for a tolerance of +150mm between the roof of the locomotive and the electrical contact wire. The AFRO4000 locomotive’s height is 4.1m as opposed to 4.262m as reported by the Rapport.

As a first conclusion, when the height of the AFRO4000 is taken at 4.1m and the contact wire is at a minimum height of 4.5m, the clearance between the roof of the locomotive and the contact wire is 400mm. Based on the aforementioned, it is clear that the gap of 400mm for the AFRO4000 is well above the minimum specifications. The AFRO4000 therefore conforms to the adopted safety standard in the South African rail environment. The wire distance should be maintained at 5.0m, however if it is below 4.5m, immediate corrective action is required to maintain the wire above 4.5m.

PRASA further commissioned the University of Stellenbosch which confirmed that the AFRO4000 will be able to pass safely under the minimum contact wire height of 4.5m. The investigation report which included a scientific calculation of gap (looking at all possible scenarios) as well as Lab testing was led by Dr. Pieterse (electrical engineer) and accepted by the PRASA Engineering department under the leadership of Dr. Daniel Mtimkulu.

The Railway Safety Regulator has also issued a No Objection Letter to allow for the testing and commissioning of the AFRO4000 locomotives. The Regulator has also been part of the design review process throughout this process and would not have allowed the testing and commissioning if there was a design flaw that would compromise safety.

The locomotives are being tested with success in both the PRASA and Transnet network to fulfil the 3000 fault free kilometers. The new locomotives have been running in the Eastern Cape, Bloemfontein, Mafikeng, Kimberly and between Cape Town and Johannesburg. No technical flaws or safety issues have arisen resulting from these tests. Further, long distance and regional services routes will be tested.

The introduction of the AFRO4000 represents a major positive step in changing the travel experience of South Africans. These represent a critical element in turning around the long distance and regional passenger rail services in South Africa. The new modern locomotives bought by PRASA are the best in South Africa today and they do not only meet but far exceeds the applicable technical and safety specifications. It is rather unfortunate that the misleading media report has missed critical facts around this important investment. South Africans and the region will soon realize the full benefit of this investment.

Statement issued by Moffet Mofoekeng, PRASA spokesman, July 7 2015