Light, efficient and the right size: Meet the new TransAfrica train

President Jacob Zuma officially launched the TransAfrica Locomotive project in Koedoespoort, Pretoria. Picture: Twitter/PresidencyZA
President Jacob Zuma officially launched the TransAfrica Locomotive project in Koedoespoort, Pretoria. Picture: Twitter/PresidencyZA

They’re a light. They’re efficient. And they’re the perfect fit. They’ll also boost the economy and create jobs.

President Jacob Zuma officially launched the TransAfrica Locomotive project this morning at Koedoespoort in Pretoria.

While the country is still unsettled by the recent Cabinet reshuffle that happened last Friday, the president proudly announced the launch of the new trains that he said are “specifically developed with African conditions in mind”.

“In April 2014, Transnet announced the awarding of a R50 billion contract for the building of 1064 diesel and electric locomotives,” he said.

The trains were built at facilities in Koedoespoort and Durban – a pro-African objective in terms of job creation and boosting the economy because 60% of the train components were locally manufactured.

According to the president, Transnet research showed that there was a particular regional demand for a relatively light and efficient locomotive that could ride local tracks, and navigate their twists and turns.

The trains were said to not only be ideal for South African branch lines but are also “the perfect fit for most of the main lines in the SADC region”, said Zuma, citing the difficulties of heavier locomotives.

In 2005, railways officials imported brand new locomotives from Europe worth R600 million despite explicit warnings that the trains were not suited for local rail lines.

Read: Prasa trains don’t fit

The locomotives were taller than the permissible safe clearance height to avoid electrical overhead wires on local railway lines.

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa insisted that the country’s overhead power lines were at least 4.5 metres above the rail tracks and the new, imported Afro 4000s would pass beneath them comfortably.

But although the power lines are supposed to be no lower than 4.5 metres, as they were in many of Prasa’s tests, there were many places in the country where, because of poor maintenance, overhead wires were much lower than they should be.

Read: Prasa trains don’t fit

“We must continue working hard to develop infrastructure that promotes trade among African countries and which make it easier for us to visit one another and also boost economic growth and development,” Zuma said.

The new trains are said to have features specifically suited for African conditions:

• A diesel powered engine – ensuring regional accessibility where there are no electrical lines;

• A unique cabin design with front and rear facing windows, allowing for movement in both directions without obstructing the driver’s view and caters for customers who cannot afford two locomotives per route; and

• Scope for customisation options for various uses including diesel multiple unit conversions with smooth start-stop motion for public transport, cabin customisation, and engine upgrades.

Both the presidency and Transnet shared more information on their Twitter accounts:

Not one to ignore the current political climate Zuma mentioned the former minister of finance – whom he sacked unceremoniously in a Cabinet reshuffle last week.

“We extend our gratitude and appreciation to Minister Pravin Gordhan and Deputy Minister Mcebisi Jonas for their contribution to strengthening the national treasury and the finance portfolio” he said.

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