Railways need ‘major repairs’ to carry heavy haul trains

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TransNamib has cautioned that the bad state of the country’s railway infrastructure hampers operations, resulting in bottlenecks, and has the potential to cause derailments, which can lead to a loss of life, environmental harm and damage to expensive equipment at any given time.

The transport parastatal added that although routine maintenance is regularly carried out, a pressing requirement is major repairs with government’s assistance to enable the transport of heavy haul trains.

“The poor condition of the track has necessitated that TransNamib implements a self-imposed and self-regulatory mandatory speed restriction on some sections of the network to mitigate derailments and accidents. The national railway line network has over the years depreciated enormously, resulting in unacceptable speed restrictions. This depressing state of affairs requires urgent attention to avoid disastrous implications on the transport sector and the economy in general,” said Struggle Ihuhua, TransNamib’s executive spokesperson. He added that it is a well-known fact that most of the railway infrastructure is very old and on some sections the network continues to have rails of 30kg/metre, with a carrying capacity of only 16.5 tons/axle.

Modern day standards in the Southern African Development Community require rail systems to be built or upgraded to 18.5 ton/axle loading standard, which require minimum 48kg/metre rails welded in continuous lengths, and concrete sleepers and good ballasts that should last for 100 years under current traffic conditions.

Ihuhua noted that as a result of the dilapidated infrastructure, trains are reduced to uneconomical speeds of 15, 20, and 40km/h, while the ideal solution would be to upgrade all the 30kg/metre and defective railway network to 18.5 tons/axle. Only about 48 percent of the Namibian network complies with this standard.

“This standard has been accepted to be the optimum design for general freight in Namibia to ensure a safe, efficient and economical rail system over the long term. It will also allow trains to move at 100 km/h,” said Ihuhua.

Rail freight is TransNamib’s core business and according to the Namibian Development Plan (NDP 1) 70 percent of income is generated by the transport section. Further, TransNamib is estimated to hold approximately 10 percent of the market share and annually transports approximately 1.5 million tons by rail.

Government, through the Ministry of Works and Transport, has an agreement with TransNamib for the maintenance of the railway infrastructure in the country at an agreed set of standards as described in the Permanent Way Instruction Code of Practice, and in line with the SADC standards on Transport and Communications. The works and transport ministry, as the custodians of the railway infrastructure in Namibia, has the mandate to upgrade any section of the railway network.

Ihuhua remarked that the rail network is still expanding in line with government’s vision to connect Namibia with its neighbouring countries by rail, in addition to the historic connection with South Africa. The network currently only has a direct connection with the South African network via Nakop and Upington, from where it is linked to Walvis Bay and Lüderitz.

The Namibian rail network covers an operational route distance of 2 478km, with a further 210km of non-operational section, while construction work is under way to re-construct the 139km link between Aus and Lüderitz.
The last 60km of the northern railway extension (NRE) up to Oshikango on the Angolan border was completed in the first quarter of 2012.

TransNamib recently purchased six new locomotives from General Electric (GE) in a deal worth US$22.7 million. The six locomotives are to be deployed specifically to transport sulphuric acid from Tsumeb to Arandis, following the 10-year rail transport agreement signed earlier this year between TransNamib and Dundee Precious Metals Tsumeb. The 10-year deal is scheduled to commence in November.

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