South Africa

700 Transnet locomotives down

Transnet has been unable to use 700 locomotives from its current stock due to a lack of spare parts and maintenance. 

This was revealed by Transnet Freight Rail chief commercial officer Bonginkosi Mabaso in an interview with Newzroom Afrika about the company’s challenges. 

Mabaso said the primary challenge is the lack of spare parts and an inability to maintain Transnet’s locomotive fleet. 

In 2019, the state-owned enterprise had roughly 2,200 locomotives at its disposal. This number dropped to 1,500 in 2022, which equates to a loss of 700 locomotives or nearly a third of total capacity. 

This has direct implications for the amount of freight the company can transport. 

Transnet transported 220 million tonnes of freight in 2019. The company could only transport 179 million tonnes in the last financial year. 

Mabaso said that the company is struggling to get original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to provide spare parts and conduct maintenance of locomotives. 

Chinese state-owned company CRRC is proving particularly unhelpful, with the company completely withdrawing from South Africa due to tax issues. 

CRRC designed and manufactured many of Transnet’s modern locomotives, which the utility can now not find spare parts for and maintain. 

These locomotives alone account for 300 of the 700 taken out of service.

Pravin Gordhan
Pravin Gordhan

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan travelled to China in April to discuss an impasse that’s blocked the delivery of locomotives and spare parts from CRRC.

Gordhan said CRRC failed to meet requirements set by the South African Reserve Bank and the South African Revenue Service.

“A key requirement for CRRC to continue doing business in South Africa is the normalisation of its relationship with key regulatory authorities,” Transnet said. “Up to now, the Chinese manufacturer has declined to do so.”

Before the current impasse, Transnet’s relations with CRRC were strained because the South African company sought to cancel a R54 billion deal to buy as many as 1,064 locomotives from the Chinese firm and two other suppliers.

CRRC hit back by withholding spare parts, forcing Transnet to withdraw locomotives from service.

Mabaso said that Transnet is also battling systemic underinvestment in rail infrastructure in South Africa, along with cable theft, sabotage, and vandalism.


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