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Transnet launches world’s longest train

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TRANSNET SOC Limited officially launched a 375-wagon manganese train yesterday, breaking the world record for a production train with the most number of wagons.

The 4km train runs over a distance of around 861km, from Sishen to Saldanha.

The train breaks Transnet Freight Rail (TRF)’s own record and a world record of the 342-wagon iron-ore production train.

According to TFR’s acting chief executive, Lloyd Tobias, running such a train meant that rolling stock, as well as some infrastructure, needed to be upgraded to 30 tons per axle on the section between Hotazel and Sishen.

The wagons were increased from 312 to 375 wagons, increasing manganese volume from 19 656 tons to 23 625 tons per train.

Commenting on the success of the test, Tobias said: “This is in line with TFR’s business objective of applying the heavy haul operating, maintenance, design, construction and best practice principles on general freight operations, and the Transnet strategy of migrating traffic from road to rail.”

Transnet’s share of export manganese has been growing exponentially from 5mt in 2012/13 to a record-breaking 15.1mt in 2018/19.

This growth has supported the recent conclusion of the Manganese Export Capacity Allocation agreements, the last of which was signed in September this year. Transnet has signed take-or-pay agreements with 10 manganese exporters in the country.

The project will maximise the manganese volumes by optimising the use of existing assets, locomotives and wagons, within the installed infrastructure constraints, doing more with what is currently available.

Furthermore, the Heavy Haul Technology, Radio Distributed Power, is used in line with the current global strategy, which is to enable the running of long trains.

TFR general manager for the Iron Ore and Manganese Business Unit, Russell Baatjies, explained that there was an option of increasing manganese’s rail capacity to respond to customer demand by upgrading the existing railway feeder lines and building new rolling stock.

“That option would have cost us significant capital. The project team was challenged to explore the use of technology through Industry 4.0 solutions, to achieve the same objective at minimum cost. Applying distributed power technology to increase the train length to 375 wagons will reduce capital requirements by over 90% of the initial estimate.”

Following this successful execution of the test train last year, Transnet has since operationalised the 4km train, which is meant to meet the needs of manganese customers within the Hotazel area, and that of emerging miners.

TFR general manager, Brian Monakali, who is also the former chairman of the International Heavy Haul Association, said: “This is another breakthrough for the heavy haul railway industry. Rio Tinto, Australia, recently started with the implementation of driverless trains in their iron ore railway system. Transnet has now successfully operationalised the 375 wagon train. The collaboration on technical research and sharing of best practice by heavy haul operations worldwide will surely keep pushing the operations, safety and rail capacity envelope to new levels through application of breakthrough technology.”