A report into the controversial Afro 4000 locomotives has confirmed that they are at times too high for South Africa’s railway network, but shows they can still operate without causing any safety issues.
The Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) published its report this week into the 13 locomotives imported from Spain by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) for R600m.
The report says that with the “exception of locomotive height limitations in certain areas of the network and subject to the highlighted conditions in this report, the Prasa Afro 4000 series locomotives possess acceptable performance capabilities to operate in the South African network”.
Prasa was planning to buy 20 diesel Afro 4000 locomotives, plus another 50 hybrid ones from Vossloh Espana, for a total of R3.5bn.
Rapport journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh first broke the story in July that the agency ignored warnings from engineers that the locomotives were too high for local railways and could damage overhead cables.
At the time, CEO Lucky Montana and his chief engineer Daniel Mthimkhulu denied this. “We meet the safety standards,” Montana said. “We have bought one of the best locomotives in the world and we are not even apologetic about that.”
Since then, Montana has resigned and Mthimkhulu fired for having a fake degree.
In addition, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released a report, Derailed, in August, which found evidence of widespread maladministration and impropriety in the awarding of tenders worth R2.8bn.
Since then, the board has launched an independent investigation into the allegations, including the procurement of the Afro 4000 locomotives.
RSR said it conducted inspections and testing on 12 of the 13 locomotives at different locations within the railway network.
“The results of the inspection and assessment confirm that the Afro 4000 series of locomotives is designed and manufactured to a height of 4140mm above rail head,” it said.
“This height exceeds the vehicle structure gauge height of 3965mm as required in the Transnet Freight Rail track maintenance manual. The impact of this deviation is that there is a greater risk of interference between Overhead Traction Equipment and the locomotive.”
At the measured height of 4140mm, “the locomotives cannot always maintain the required minimum vertical gap of 150mm between the roof and the contact wire”, the report shows.
“This will lead to a higher risk of contact and flashover with the overhead traction equipment and operational delays,” it says. “There is evidence on some of the Afro 4000 locomotives inspected that such contact/flashover has occurred during testing.”
Deployment of locomotives approved
However, the RSR approved the deployment of the Afro 4000 series on the 25kV lines in the Free State, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape provided that the conditions highlighted in the assessment are met.
“The RSR reiterates that all the safety critical items identified and communicated with Prasa in this report must be addressed before an operating licence can be granted for the locomotives to be operated on the South African network.
“These include the successful completion of the tunnel tests and the acceptance of the results by the RSR, cab ergonomics analysis – all of which must be submitted to the RSR for evaluation and assessment purposes.”
Risks could have been avoided
The RSR said many of the risks could have been avoided if Prasa had followed the technology review process as set by the RSR.
However, RSR said all the requirements were met, except for the following:
- Tunnel air quality tests report must be submitted to confirm that the locomotive exhaust discharge has no impact on passengers.
- Human factors assessments validation phase must be conducted and submitted.
- Maintenance arrangements for the locomotives must be presented.