As it keeps the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in mind, Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) is hopeful that the upcoming International Heavy Haul Association (IHHA) conference will provide the State-owned entity with an opportunity to not just showcase South African capabilities and potential to the international community but also allow it to participate in knowledge-sharing opportunities to further improve its own strategies.
The IHHA conference, to be held in Norway next month, will see the association’s 11 member companies join forces to collectively craft a 2030 vision for the heavy haul industry in light of the potentially disruptive changes associated with the 4IR.
The 2030 vision seeks to reinforce the competitiveness of heavy haul rail operators as the lowest-cost and most environmentally sustainable way of transporting bulk commodities, such as iron-ore, coal and manganese.
Through sharing best practice information at the conference, Transnet executive manager Tiyani Hlabangwane believes the entity will be better equipped to take advantage of global technology to implement its Automated Train Operation (ATO) initiative, which he says will be in place within the next five years.
Through the ATO, which falls under the entity’s 4IR initiatives, he tells Engineering News Online that Transnet will automate all of its subsystems into one system, meaning that everything will be interlinked and minimise manual interventions.
Over the course of the next five years, the ATO will see TFR implement cruise-control, automatic cruise-control, as well as remote control functions. The latter, he said during a short presentation on Friday, will explore the option of drivers being able to manage trains from the office.
However, this requires the development infrastructural technologies before it can be implemented.
Implementation of the ATO will see TFR save on costs and improve energy consumption, but increase predictability and reliability for customers, which is ultimately expected to grow the TFR business and increase transport volumes.
The ATO will also increase the safety and lifespan of the rail network, locomotives and wagons.
In this respect, Hlabangwane highlights the importance of the conference, which will provide TFR with an opportunity to explore international technologies that can be implemented and deployed locally, but also allow TFR to improve on the information and processes it already has.
Moreover, the conference will see the launch of Best Practice for Rolling Stock Design and Management, a book co-authored by rail executives and experts from South Africa, China, Australia and the US.
About 15 contributors across Transnet are responsible for the compilation of the South African chapter, which focusses on exploring the fundamentals of locomotives, Transnet executive research manager Andy Mabaso tells Engineering News Online.
He explains how, in the 80-page chapter, readers are able to see, through a South African perspective, how locomotives are designed, how specifications are derived from operations and how, once the specifications are on hand, the physical system can be designed.
Additionally, Transnet research and development executive Konrad Boshoff highlights how, essentially, the chapter “brings everything together to [assist] people in understanding [the importance of locomotives]”, while also touching on the complexity of the heavy haul rail sector.
“What you’ll also get is nuggets of insights that’s not available anywhere else; things that we do and take for granted. . . [The chapter allowed us to] to give insights into how we solve or design a particular problem or aspect of the locomotive in a way that’s not how another country would approach it,” Mabaso adds.
The chapter, they say, took about four months to compile and complete.
Overall, however, Boshoff notes that the South African rail sector is seeing “real development” in looking at newer technologies and the implementation thereof, which is why he is hopeful that the IHHA conference, and attending delegates, will “see Transnet’s vision and strategy to change the railways of South Africa”.
Transnet intends to follow up on the conference, which will see the release of various Transnet-authored technical papers, with a gathering in Johannesburg during 2020, where a programme of action for deploying “Heavy Haul 4.0” will be agreed and various practical projects launched.