A Truly African Locomotive

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South Africa plans to invest billions into expanding and modernising its 20,000 kilometre long rail network and the fleets that run on it. Aside from improving mobility and spurring economic growth in the region, the nation is also using the opportunity to create a new pool of highly skilled workers with a bright future in the rail industry.

To meet the country’s ambitious goals, Transnet, South Africa’s national rail and port operator, has partnered with Bombardier Transportation South Africa (Pty) Ltd to produce 240 BOMBARDIER TRAXX freight locomotives. But the truly remarkable thing is that this is an entirely South African affair. Each one of these new TRAXX Africa locomotives will be built by South Africans, in South Africa, for South Africa.

Materials like coal and ore are the most important goods transported in natural resource-rich South Africa and long routes between mines, ports and sparse urban areas present an ideal opportunity for rail to transport bulk cargo in large quantities efficiently and environmentally friendly. However, the nation’s rail infrastructure has been neglected for decades and as a result over 70% of freight volume has now shifted back onto the roads. That’s why South African politicians are proposing a rail revival.

manufacturing capacity, training and developing the local workforce and working with local partners to meet shared objectives – this is how Bombardier Transportation supports South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment Programme.
Investing in local manufacturing capacity, training and developing the local workforce and working with local partners to meet shared objectives – this is how Bombardier Transportation supports South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment Programme.

In this regard, the 2014 contract signed between Transnet Freight Rail and Bombardier to provide 240 TRAXX locomotives represents not only a major leap forward, but will also play a key role in the nation’s Black Economic Empowerment programme a long-term government programme that aims to improve employment prospects for the majority black population.

This project fosters local growth, but it also means a reliable, robust regional supply chain. “By transferring expertise in a targeted way, we have succeeded in building, beyond our own site, a network of suppliers that fulfil our strict quality requirements and thus meet international standards,” explains Henk Ekkelenkamp, TRAXX South Africa Project Director. “A highly skilled industry is emerging here.”

Bombardier is committed to localizing more than 60% of the contract’s scope.

240 TRAXX locomotives to Transnet Freight Rail.
Bombardier is providing 240 TRAXX locomotives to Transnet Freight Rail.

The African version of the TRAXX locomotive, hundreds of which are already in use around the world in different variants, will be constructed as a multi-system electric locomotive able to operate on the region’s narrow gauge track – just over one meter wide. Transnet Freight Rail intends to use these locomotives to pull lengthy coal and ore trains of up to 200 cars – twice as many as current freight trains. There is also an electrified train network that is currently around 8,000 kilometres long. According to the ambitious plan, by the end of the decade South Africa will have invested a total of around 30 billion euro into modernising its rail systems and, by 2019, will operate the fifth-largest railway network in the world.

But this modernisation is just one part of the
National Infrastructure Plan.

Another of its goals is to improve rail transit in the corridor between the country’s two largest industrial centres, the port region of Durban and the province of Gauteng around the metropolis of Johannesburg. The same region where the 240 TRAXX locomotives will be built. The locomotive’s carbody construction will be carried out by DCD in Boksburg, Bombardier Transportation will produce the propulsion and electrical equipment in Isando while the bogies and final assembly will be completed in collaboration between Transnet Engineering and Bombardier Transportation in Durban. This is – in addition to the many other suppliers across South Africa which are contributing to this important project – a strong local supply chain that ensures a sustainable future for the nation’s industry.

Bombardier in South Africa

Bombardier has been involved in the modernisation of the South African railway for over 20 years. Local content has also played a crucial role in the establishment of national production in previous contracts. Milestones included the delivery of 96 BOMBARDIER ELECTROSTAR vehicles for the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link rail mass transit in the Greater Johannesburg area, which were largely manufactured in South Africa. This is in addition to the implementation of the BOMBARDIER INTERFLO 200 operations control system on several routes in the Greater Durban area.