WITH 2006 marking the 30th anniversary of South Africa’s heavy haul iron ore railway, Spoornet announced in December that it plans to strengthen the 50 kV power supply on the 861 km Sishen - Saldanha line. Additional substations are to be added to shorten the present electrical sections, allowing the use of more electric locos on each train.

At present, the 216-wagon ore trains are hauled by Class 9E electric locos with assisting diesels. Spoornet wants to phase out diesel operation, as rising fuel costs are making it uneconomic. The 9Es are to be upgraded, and the operator hopes to provide additional electric motive power, although it is not clear where it will be able to obtain 50 kV locos.

The work is part of a programme to raise the line’s annual capacity from 29 to 41 million tonnes by 2010. Spoornet is to expand its yards and lengthen crossing loops to permit the operation of 342-wagon trains. Turnround times are to be reduced by raising the loading speed at the mines to 5 400 tonnes per hour. A second tippler is to be added at Saldanha to speed the unloading process.