New Prasa trains hardly go anywhere - not even slowly

Johannesburg - Rail agency Prasa’s new Afro 4000 locomotives will not be allowed to travel on most of the main long-distance rail routes they were originally intended for.

On the popular Shosholoza Meyl route between Johannesburg and Cape Town, for instance, Prasa will only be allowed to use the Afro 4000s on the 25kV-line between Kimberley in the Northern Cape and Beaufort West in the Karoo. The rest of the route is electrified with 3kV overhead wires, which are generally lower than the 25kV ones.

Prasa will also not be allowed to run the Afro 4000s on the Johannesburg-Durban route, while the locomotives will only be allowed to travel on about a third of the route between Gauteng and East London.

City Press' sister newspaper, Rapport, last week learnt that Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) had decided that the rail agency’s controversial Afro 4000 locomotives would only be allowed to travel on the rail network’s 25 kilovolt (kV) and non-electrified lines, and not on any of the country’s 3kV lines.

The latest restriction means that Prasa won’t be able to use the Afro 4000s on the company’s main Shosholoza Meyl long-haul routes unless they are replaced with other locomotives at key points on the routes.

TFR and Prasa’s own engineers have on several occasions expressed their concerns in emails and documents about safety issues related to the Afro 4000s’ height.

Prasa had intended to use the new locomotives on the company’s long-distance routes.

An excerpt from the December 11 2014 edition of the Prasa Myline magazine reads: "Prasa unveiled its new and modernised Afro 4000 series diesel long-distance locomotive at the launch held at Cape Town station on December 1."

Singing a different tune

At a press conference in July, axed Prasa CEO Lucky Montana said the Afro 4000s "would enter revenue-generating long-haul passenger services with Shosholoza Meyl by the end of August".

But Prasa now seems to be singing a different tune. 

The company stated in a written response: "[Indications that the locomotives would not be able to travel on the routes they were intended for] is factually incorrect, as the Afro 4000 diesel locomotives were not meant to travel long-haul distances mentioned above, as it will not be cost-effective to run diesel locomotives on long-haul electrified lines.

"Prasa’s Afro 4000 diesel locomotive deployment plan has prioritised operating these [locomotives] on the 25kV and diesel [non-electrified] lines, and that is why Prasa did not contest Transnet’s acceptance to operate the Afro 4000 diesel locomotives on these lines, as it is in line with our deployment plan," said the company. 

It added that the issue around the use of the Afro 4000s on TFR’s 3kV lines had not been resolved.

"Prasa and Transnet are involved in very constructive discussions to resolve the only outstanding issue, which is around operating the Afro 4000 diesel locomotive on the Transnet 3kV lines," said Prasa.

Meanwhile, "Dr" Daniel Mtimkulu, who headed the procurement process for the Vossloh locomotives, was axed on Friday following a Prasa disciplinary hearing on Thursday, for which Mtimkulu did not show up.

Falsified academic qualifications and even a fake job offer from a private engineering firm, by means of which Mtimkulu managed to obtain a higher salary from Prasa, were provided as evidence in the hearing.

According to Beeld newspaper, Mtimkulu at one stage provided Prasa with a "job offer", which included a salary of R2.8m per year, which he supposedly received from engineering firm DB Schenker.

Mtimkulu’s salary at Prasa was consequently adjusted from R1.65m per year to R2.8m.

DB Schenker confirmed to Prasa’s lawyers that they never made such a job offer to Mtimkulu, the disciplinary panel heard.

Mtimkulu could not be reached for comment.

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