The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) has dismissed the height issue regarding the infamous Afro 4000 diesel locomotives, describing the narrative that has been in the headlines over the years as “a fallacy”.
This comes after Afro 4000 locomotives, also known as “tall trains”, travelled between Johannesburg and Cape Town “without glitches”, Prasa revealed on Tuesday.
Prasa has been rolling out the trains as part of an infrastructure assessment, with the embattled state rail agency looking to bring stability in its operations.
In 2015, leaked documents emerged in the public where Prasa’s engineers warned in a report that the Afro 4000 locomotives, which were imported from Spain, were too tall to run on large parts of South Africa’s long-distance rail network, notably the stretch between Cape Town and Beaufort West.
This was also confirmed by the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) in their report on the locomotives published in November 2015.
“The results of the inspection and assessment confirm that the Afro 4000 series of locomotives is designed and manufactured to a height of 4,140mm above rail head.
“This height exceeds the vehicle structure gauge height of 3,965mm 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,” the report reads.
The report further states that any track that runs on the 3kV line cannot support the Afro 4000 locomotive.
The map below, from the RSR report, shows in red lines where the Afro 4000 locomotive cannot operate, and blue lines where the train can.
At least 150mm is the normally accepted safe distance between the locomotive roof and rail cables.
Mail & Guardian previously reported that one of the locomotives was damaged in a derailment and Prasa failed to conduct or to allow Swifambo Rail – which won a R3.5 billion tender in 2013 to supply locomotives – to carry out the necessary scheduled maintenance.
This was according to former Swifambo’s group chief executive officer, Felice Massaro.
The Afro 4000 locomotive derailed on August 19, 2015 in Kimberley, leaving 12 people injured.
The train was travelling from Johannesburg to Cape Town derailed as it passed through Kimberley.