The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) says the locomotives it acquired are the best in the world, and they are suited for local tracks.
Group CEO Lucky Montana briefed reporters in Pretoria on Monday following a report in Rapport newspaper at the weekend that South African railway officials imported brand new locomotives from Europe worth hundreds of millions on rands, despite explicit warnings that the trains were not suited for local rail lines.
But Montana said Prasa had bought the best locomotives in the world and that the rail safety regulator was satisfied with the work they had done. He said they were even granted a testing commission permit. Once the testing period is completed, they will be granted an operating permit.
“We meet the safety standards. We have bought one of the best locomotives in the world and we are not even apologetic about that,” he said.
Rapport reported that Prasa imported new locomotives worth R600m despite warnings that the trains are not suited for South African railway lines.
Senior railways engineers and sources with first-hand knowledge of the issue told Rapport Prasa had been warned the new diesel locomotives it ordered from Spanish manufacturer, Vossloh España, are too tall for local use.
Locomotives tested without incident – Montana
The locomotives exceeded the height restrictions for diesel locomotives on the long distance lines Prasa intended using them on, the article said.
The 13 Afro 4 000 diesel locomotives that have so far been delivered to Prasa are worth R600m and form part of a larger R3.5bn order for 70 new locomotives.
Montana questioned the motive behind the report. He claimed the railway regulator’s report was not mentioned in the report. He said the locomotives have been tested without incident.
“During our testing, the train passed through tunnels. There is no bridge that was hit. From our side, there is no story. The hype is focused on other things,” he said.
Montana accused the reporter of trying to create an impression that incompetent individuals headed Prasa. He maintained that there was no truth to the report.
‘No blunder here’
“There is no blunder here. We have been running these things for the past few months. People are asking why we are not running these locomotives if there is no problem. That shows lack of understanding. We must first run them for 3 000 kilometres before they can be rolled out,” said Montana.
He maintained that the new trains surpassed standards.
CEO of the rail division, Mosengwa Mofi, said the article was grossly inaccurate as it claimed the new Afro 4000 locomotives exceeded the height restrictions for diesel locomotives on long distance lines.
“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 Instructions (2000). The 2012 electrical safety instruction speculation supersedes all previous specifications,” he said.
Mofi added that the instruction specifies that the normal height between rail and electrical wire for 3kv and 25 kv networks is 5.0m and the minimum is 4.5m. He said the safety instruction allows for a tolerance of +150mm between the roof of the locomotive and the electrical contact wire.
“The Afro 4000 locomotive’s height is 4.1m as opposed to 4.262m as reported by the Rapport,” he said.
Rapport editor stands by story
Rapport editor Waldimar Pelser said the newspaper stood by its report.
“Rapport does not publish investigative reports merely on a whim and stands by its story. We would gladly rectify factual errors if such were to be proven to have been made, but stand by our report that due diligence was lacking in the procurement of the Afro 4000.”
The Rapport investigation spanned several months and quoted several Transnet engineers expressing their concern that the locomotives were ordered “off the shelf” despite warnings that they were not suitable for use on all parts of the South African rail network, he said.
“The report and Prasa’s response to it hinge on the locomotives’ maximum acceptable height, which Rapport reported experts as fixing at 3 965mm, measured from the track to the very top of the locomotive. This ‘maximum’ was confirmed by at least three highly placed Transnet sources who claim to have expressed alarm internally about technical specifications of the Afro 4000,” said Pelser.
“On Prasa’s own admission today, the locomotives are 4 100mm tall, while Rapport, which relied for measurements on numerous well-placed engineering sources, fixed the height at 4 264mm.”
Pelser said this did not mean that the Afro 4000 could not safely pass under bridges or through tunnels.
“Rapport’s story report made no mention whatsoever of safety issues when the locomotive passes under such structures, and Montana’s suggestion that this is what we reported is rejected out of hand.
“Rapport also expressed no opinion about the competence of Prasa officials, and in fact our reporter deals regularly with highly competent people on the Prasa team.”