Transnet’s R8 Billion Chinese Locomotives Failure: Facts To Know


Reports have that Transnet’s R8 billion Chinese locomotives are plagued by technical problems in South Africa.

From our gatherings, the alternators of the first two diesel locomotives delivered to Transnet by China’s state-owned rail giant (CRRC Corporation) have been having problems ever since they arrived South Africa in 2016.

With the inability to operate the first two locomotives, Transnet rejected the delivery of additional 18 locomotives waiting to be shipped to Mzansi.

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As learnt, a well-placed source divulged that the problems with the Chinese locomotives is their alternators. The source first pointed-out that the alternator is one of the most important parts of a diesel locomotive because it generates the power that moves the train forward.

With that, he related that the locomotives’ alternators do vibrate excessively making them difficult to operate.

Commenting on the issue, Mike Asefovits, a senior manager at Transnet’s corporate affairs division, asserted that the vibrating alternators aren’t worth any panic.

According to Asefovits, such problems are usually resolved before testing and commissioning.

“The manufacturing process is at prototype stage and this is when you pick up niggles and fix them. It is common phenomena that from design to build to test there will always be a measure of technical issues that might arise,” remarked Asefovits.

However, insiders argued that the project is past its prototype phase as CRRC Corporation has already completed 20 of the class 45 locomotives.

Also, they disclosed that the source of the alternator problem is CRRC use of unfamilair technology.

One of the insiders was quoted to have said: “excessive vibration is a huge issue. The machines essentially failed their first test. Those 18 locomotives in China are completed, they’re sitting on the docks in China ready to be shipped here, so I don’t understand how Transnet can view them as prototypes.”

Another said: “the Chinese won the bid with bid documents that indicated they would use alternators manufactured by ABB (a Swiss technology group based in Zurich) but they ended up using Chinese-manufactured alternators.”

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Nonetheless, Transnet maintained that the Chinese locomotives are prototype and that CRRC has successfully resolved the problem.

CRRC also affirmed that it’s yet to hand over the locomotives to Transnet.  CRRC SA Rolling Stock told News24 that “the first two D45 locomotives (which) arrived in South Africa are still in type testing stage and, (haven’t been) handed over to Transnet yet.”

Meanwhile, a team from Transnet will visit China in February to verify if CRRC can fix the alternator problems on the locomotives waiting to be shipped to SA.

Asefovits said the Transnet team would validate the technologies and sub-systems. Adding that the trip is part of the contractual and costed process, Asefovits stressed that Transnet wouldn’t bear the repair costs.

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The R8 billion Chinese locomotives contract is part of the R50 billion tender awarded by Transnet under Brian Molefe in 2014.

Records has it that the tender was the biggest order for locomotives in South Africa’s history. Four international original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) were contracted to build 1 064 new locomotives for SA.

The 50 billion tender was shared between China North Rail (CNR, 232 diesel locomotives at R7.8bn), China South Rail (CSR, 359 electric locomotives at R14.6bn), General Electric (GE, 233 diesel locomotives at R7.1 bn) and Bombardier (240 electric locomotives at R10.4bn).

Shortly after the tender was awarded, CNR and CSR merged to form CRRC.