Prasa’s new loco woes

2015-09-15 10:04
New locomotive. (Prasa)

New locomotive. (Prasa)

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Johannesburg - It seems as if Prasa's controversial Afro­4000 locomotives are not only too tall for South African rail lines, their brakes could also pose a danger.

The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) team, led by now-sacked head of engineering “Dr” Daniel Mtimkulu, apparently bought the locomotives “off the rack” from Spanish manufacturer Vossloh España without realising they were fitted with air brakes.

South Africa’s older rail coaches have vacuum brakes, which cannot be coupled with air brakes. The locomotives can be manufactured with either system.

According to two independent sources with knowledge of the procurement process, the vacuum system was not included in the development of the locomotives.

A presentation by Vossloh in January 2012 to Prasa states that the engines have air brakes as standard. Sister paper Beeld has seen this presentation.

When Prasa realised its mistake last year, vacuum systems were hastily added and the locomotives arrived with both systems in place.

Beeld understands from four railway experts that the added-on vacuum system has mechanical problems because it was not part of the original design.

Beeld understands that the locomotives are regularly used to pull passenger trains, although they have not been licensed to do so.

“It would come down to culpable homicide if a passenger were to die in an accident in which the brakes played a part,” said one expert.

Two of the 13 locomotives, valued at R600 million, have problems with leaking seals on compressors meant to supply the air brakes with air.

A source said the vacuum brakes are connected to the same compressors and the hasty patch job could be the cause of the leaks.

Passengers who recently travelled on a train to Cape Town reported that the brakes appeared to struggle to “bind”, which means the vacuum pump is too small or there are leaks in the system.

The train had to stop in De Aar for work on the brakes.

Other passengers on a train from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth contacted Beeld to complain that they arrived hours late, because the train, pulled by an Afro4000, was “extremely slow”.

A media trip in July was also very slow and no Prasa staff on board could explain why.

Railway experts said all these issues are indicative of an ineffective brake system.

Prasa spokesperson Sipho Sithole said in answer to queries that the locomotives’ vacuum and air brake systems were designed to be compatible with the Shosholoza Meyl passenger coaches.

“The locomotives have been tested and are about to be put into service,” he said by SMS in answer to a query whether the engines had been put out of operation because they have not yet received operational certificates.

Beeld has previously reported that at least six of the engines, including the two with leaking brakes, are non-operational.

Read more on:    prasa  |  transport

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