State-owned freight logistics group Transnet has taken delivery of the first of what will eventually be 50 “as-new” diesel locomotives, with the balance of the units scheduled to enter the South African rail network by the end of the third quarter of 2009.

Transnet Freight Rail CEO Siyabonga Gama says that the trains will improve the reliability of the group’s aged fleet, with the initial unit also being the first diesel locomotive to be delivered for service in 20 years.

Transnet Rail Engineering (TRE) and Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) are upgrading the locomotives jointly, with production under way at TRE’s Koedoespoort facility in Gauteng.

The Class 39-200 locomotives incorporate several new EMD designs, as well as more than 2 000 parts secured from domestic suppliers.

TRE CEO Richard Vallihu has lauded the joint venture’s efforts, noting that the entire concept, design, prototype and production line had been completed in only three months. The production line itself has been designed to produce 11 locomotives a month.

Some 40 EMD representatives from across the world are overseeing the project and have committed to transfer skills and technology to 140 TRE employees working on the project.

TRE, which is a division of Transnet, has 14 500 staff countrywide working at 150 depots across the country.

Meanwhile, Transnet is still poring over bids for 100 brand-new diesel locomotives, as part of an urgent tender, which was called after it found irregularities with an earlier contract process for 212 locomotives.

The Electro-Motive Sibanye Joint Venture had been identified as the preferred bidder for the initial programme, but the tender was withdrawn when the irregularities were uncovered.

It remained uncertain as to when the contract for the 100 locomotives will be awarded, but Transnet has said that the bids are receiving urgent attention.

In fact, given that the initial tender was issued in September 2006 and the preferred bidder named in 2007, some of the trains should have already been entering the system.