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Extra-long 4 km ore trains


Extra-long 4 km ore trains running at rate of 35 trains a week to Saldanha

Every week 35 long trains, each more than 4 km in length, carry iron ore from Sishen in the Northern Cape to Saldanha Bay on the Cape West Coast.

The new long trains, which are about 50% longer than their predecessors, have been phased in since July last year, when Transnet Freight Rail began commercially implementing Radio Distributed Power (RDP) control systems on the Class 9E electric locomotives and Class 34 diesel locomotives deployed on the 861 km Sishen-Saldanha line.

The RDP systems provide the overall control required to enable the new long trains – each consisting of 342 wagons hauled by three electric and seven diesel locos – to operate efficiently. Prior to the introduction of the RDP systems the length of the trains was limited to a maximum of 228 wagons per train.

The need for Transnet Freight Rail to run more or longer trains arose from having to meet the higher tonnages and ramp-up requirements that resulted from substantially increased output by the two major opencast mining operations producing the ore – Kumba Iron Ore’s Sishen Mine and Assmang’s Khumani Mine. As part of the improvements to meet this need, the line was upgraded to handle the increased throughput of more than a million tonnes of iron ore per week.

The upgrade and efficiency improvements of the locomotives started with an upgrade and general overhaul contract that was awarded in 2000 to Germiston-based ACTOM Transport Equipment & Projects (TEP) – then Alstom Transport Equipment & Projects. The key portion of this contract was installation on each of the 31 electric locomotives operating on the ore line of state-of-the-art Agate (Advanced Generic Alstom Traction Electronics) control systems.

The Agate systems, produced by Alstom’s electronics systems centre of excellence in Villeurbanne, France, control the operations of each electric loco individually.

Subsequently, in 2006, Transnet Freight Rail assigned to TEP the task of installing and integrating Phase 1 of the new electronic brake and associated RDP systems on the 9E locos. TEP was supported in this by Alstom in Preston, responsible for the project and technical interfaces, and Alstom in Villeurbanne, which provided technical backup on interfacing the Agate systems with the wireless RDP system, supplied by General Electric of the US.

“The RDP technology was initially implemented and tested on some trains back in December 2007, while full commercial use of the system went into operation in November 2009 after all the electric and diesel locomotives had been upgraded to RDP configuration,” explained Frans Weygertze, TEP’s 9E project manager.

“In addition to the new electronic brake system, the challenge was to interface the Agate control system with the RDP control system to enable the RDP system to manage and co-ordinate the operation of the independent control systems of each of the electric locos in the train, with improved fault reporting and fault handling features.

“The control system of each locomotive feeds the required instructions and messages to the RDP system, which in turn sends and receives messages from the lead locomotive to the locomotives in the remote consists.

“The RDP technology combined with the electronic brake-racks ensure high braking efficiency as well as increasing the drawing power of the locomotives by enabling the locomotives to be spread evenly at strategic positions within the train instead of all together at the front,” Weygertze stated.

The installation and interfacing of the RDP control systems and electronic brake-racks, plus other enhancements, were added to the original main contract as variation orders, bringing the value of the contract in total to over R400-million, making it by far the largest upgrade contract undertaken by TEP to date.

ACTOM (Pty) Ltd is a black empowered electrical engineering company that employs over 6 000 people and has an annual order intake in excess of R5bn. It has 27 operating units, 22 production facilities and 25 distribution centres throughout South Africa.

ACTOM partners Alstom France for environmental equipment and in serving the maintenance, upgrade and retrofit market for larger boilers, as well as for railway transport activities.

ACTOM holds exclusive distribution, technology and representation rights for Areva T&D in Southern Africa and maintains management, technical and commercial links to Areva T&D business units in Europe.

ACTOM formerly traded under the name Alstom South Africa and re-branded to ACTOM in September 2009.

For further information contact Frans Weygertze, ACTOM Transport Equipment & Projects
PO Box 4583, Germiston South 1411
Tel (011) 878-3000 Fax (011) 878-3301

Date: July 22, 2010


One of the new 4 km long trains operating on the Sishen-Saldanha iron ore line following the upgrade of the Class 9E locos with integrated electronic braking and Radio Distributed Power control systems.


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