South Africa Hampered by Rolling Stock Challenges

South Africa is facing challenges regarding its rolling stock, owing to rail networks being vandalised during Covid-19 lockdowns, and this will be costly to repair, says consultant and supplier of new and used locomotives African Railway Systems, COO Dylan Knott.

The shortage of locomotives and rolling stock also prevents the full use of South Africa’s rail system, and while State-owned utility Transnet Freight Rail has started making its rail network accessible for private operators, the challenges remain, he notes.

“We supply guidance to new operators and we supply new locomotives and rolling stock. We feel that custom-designed locomotives built for Africa will be the only solution to these problems.”

Knott adds that the majority of South Africa’s rolling stock was bult in the 1970s; therefore, spare parts are difficult to source and lead times are longer, owing to Covid-19 restrictions, which, in turn, affects the availability of locomotives.

As a result, breakdowns are becoming more frequent and locomotives spend more time being repaired, rather than hauling trains.

“It is important to have locomotives fitted with fuel-efficient engines, modern safety systems and strict maintenance schedules. More modern locomotives are needed to complement – and eventually replace – older ones. To take locomotives offline for maintenance and repair, you need to have spare locomotives to take over their duties, otherwise the freight services cannot operate,” comments Knott.

In addition to the national network, private operators also require more locomotives to operate their networks.

Further, while older locomotives are sometimes sold to private operators, the locomotives still need to be refurbished and modernised.

Hence, Knott says the chance for the greatest potential use of South Africa’s rolling stock lies in the country’s ability to supply private operators with modern, custom-designed locomotives and spare parts.

Without spare parts, locomotives cannot operate, which is where African Railway Systems has a “competitive advantage”, owing to the company’s obtaining spare parts with shorter lead times, he adds.

The company can assist private operators at mines and factories to increase their locomotive stock. It can also supply locomotives to successful bidders that aim to do business with Transnet or rail company the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), with African Railway Systems having received queries in this regard.

Knott says industrial operators want to replace their older locomotives that can no longer be properly maintained; African Railway Systems refurbishes locomotives weighing between 5 t and 120 t, rather than replacing them.

“We are also looking to increase the number of battery-electric shunting locomotives for operators that are reducing their carbon footprint,” he adds.

African Railway Systems, in association with Mexico-based rail solutions provider Ferrovias del Bajio, has built and supplied four 1 900HP diesel-electric locomotives to railway company Madarail in Madagascar this year.

Madarail approached African Railway Systems because it required a solution for its passenger services and could not find suitable rolling stock, owing to its rail network being 1 000 mm gauge and having a strict loading gauge.

African Railway Systems has also delivered six passenger coaches to Madarail and acted as consultants on the project. Further, the company has projects in countries in Africa in the pipeline involving supplying diesel locomotives and freight wagons to mining companies.

The company aims to supply refurbished diesel locomotives and rolling stock to operators in Africa and abroad, and aims to offer core locomotive and wagon spares to existing operators at competitive prices.

African Railway Systems is also aiming to promote the G series of locomotives – G15 1500HP, G20-3 1900HP released in 2022, and G24 2400HP – in Africa as a custom-designed locomotive capable of operating in harsh conditions that can be built to any gauge.

It is also supplying pre-owned Harsco track maintenance machines to the African market.

“This is a new, but very interesting market for us to expand into in the future,” enthuses Knott.

African Railway Systems is also an agent for the supply of the purpose-built Unilok shunting locomotive. These machines are designed for road-rail operation and are fitted with either a weight transfer coupler or tracktronic drive for efficient shunting.

“The locomotives have a low fuel consumption, can shunt heavier loads than equivalent locomotives and are the most cost-effective locomotives available at present,” he concludes. 

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