SOUTH AFRICA’s state-owned transport holding group Transnet announced on February 13 that it had signed a contract to purchase 110 electric locomotives over the next five years at a cost of R3·5bn.

Ordered as part of Spoornet’s R35bn capital investment programme, the locos will be used to expand capacity on the railway’s heavy haul freight corridors. The first are expected to start test running in 18 months’ time, and to enter service on the Richards Bay coal line within two years.

The operator has a long-established plan to order up to 600 ’All-Purpose Traction’ locos (RG 4.01 p237). The Richards Bay route is electrified at 25 kV 50Hz and 3 kV DC. Spoornet also needs more motive power for its 50 kV Sishen - Saldanha iron-ore line.

The locos are to be supplied by Mitsui & Company African Rail Solution, a joint venture owned 59% by the Japanese trading company and 41% by two ’empowerment partners’, Sibambene Trade & Services Holdings, and African Sky Innovative Solutions. Principal subcontractors are Toshiba and the Union Carriage & Wagon Partnership, which will assemble the locos in South Africa, creating more than 1500 jobs.

Transnet CEO Maria Ramos said the new locos would enable train lengths to be increased from 200 to 300 wagons, with locomotive availability expected to increase by up to 20%. Spoornet is looking to raise its annual traffic on the Richards Bay line from 70 million tonnes this year to 92 million tonnes in 2010-11. A further R9bn will be spent to step up throughput at the loading and unloading terminals.