Manufacturer focused on anti-theft, -vandalism signalling equipment

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NQOBILE MTHEMBU ACTOM Signalling is constantly developing solutions that will curb the theft and vandalism of signalling equipment

10th March 2023

By: Tracy Hancock

Creamer Media Contributing Editor


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The prevention of vandalism and theft of rail infrastructure continues to be a significant money pit for the South African passenger and freight rail industry.

State-owned entity Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) spends R1-billion a year to protect its infrastructure from vandalism, then group CEO David Mphelo told Parliament in June last year.

State-owned rail company Transnet spent R1.5-billion on security for rail infrastructure last year, compared with the R1-billion spent in 2018, CEO Portia Derby also told Parliament at the time.

Southern African railway signalling equipment company ACTOM Signalling’s newest solution, geared towards combatting theft and vandalism, is an in-sleeper, or integrated sleeper-based points, machine.

While the product has yet to be launched, the development and testing has been completed and a piloting site has been identified. However, the installation date has yet to be determined.

The in-sleeper machine is small enough to be installed securely between rails and inside concrete sleepers to prevent tampering, explains ACTOM Signalling Engineering Projects and Contracts business development manager Nqobile Mthembu.

“We like to collaborate with our customers to understand their pain points and design solutions that directly improve railway safety and ensure network availability, and we are constantly developing solutions that will curb the theft and vandalism of signalling equipment,” says Mthembu.

Owing to the extent of theft and vandalism countrywide, ACTOM Signalling secured an anti-vandal equipment contract from PRASA in July last year as part of its Cape Town resignalling project. The company will supply and install anti-vandal products for axle counters on the northern and southern corridors.

The company was also awarded the flood damage contract by Transnet in May last year for Durban’s mainmarshalling yards, Fynnlands and Bayhead, which entails the supply, testing and commissioning of their yard automation system.

“After the flooding disaster in KwaZulu-Natal in April last year, whereby some of the shoreline railway infrastructure washed away, we tendered to repair yard automationin the area,” explains Mthembu, noting that both orders should be delivered over the course of this year.

Future Opportunities

ACTOM Signalling expects private-sector participation agreements with Transnet to be a catalyst for investment in the country’s freight rail sector to ensure adequate maintenance so that the infrastructure remains in a good condition.

“This will provide many opportunities for ACTOM, as one of the largest local signalling equipment manufacturers in South Africa, to provide sustainable solutions,” highlights Mthembu.

South Africa represents the greatest demand for ACTOM’s railway signalling product offering in Southern Africa, but the company foresees growth opportunities in countries such as Eswatini, Namibia and Botswana.

“ACTOM Signalling’s products and solutions are geared towards meeting the standards, philosophy and environmental conditions encountered in the Southern African railway industry,” states Mthembu.

The company intends to strengthen and enhance its position as one of the leading suppliers of railway signalling products and solutions, including technical support for its products, across Southern Africa.

It also endeavours to keep customers equipped with the latest technological advancements.

Although systems installed in the 1980s are still operational, ACTOM Signalling has started replacing them in the past five years to manage obsolescence.

“If you install a quality product from the beginning, you only really need to replace it to keep up to date with the latest innovations, which is ideally every ten to 15 years,” adds Mthembu.

“Our local manufacturing, engineering and contracting capabilities, together with various international technology partners, ensure that we provide our railway customers with the latest technology and systems on the market.”

However, shortages and subsequent delays relating to critical imported components are impacting on ACTOM Signalling’s lead times, owing to supply chain disruptions and semiconductor shortages caused by the Russia-Ukraine war.

To mitigate the impact of these delays on manufacturing, the company has accumulated a strategic stockholding and has started looking for local component suppliers.

ACTOM Signalling has identified a more cost-efficient replacement of the direct current motor for its most popular product, the B1 Switchmatic points machine, to shorten long lead times.

Factory acceptance tests have been conducted and ACTOM will soon start using these motors, says Mthembu.

“Point machines are critical in controlling the directional change of a train and for the safety of rail services. The well-tested and widely used machine was first developed in the 1980s and is the model on which ACTOM’s other point systems are based.

“All our point machines meet the general requirements of the BS 581 specification for electrically driven, point-operating machines for railways and Railway Safety Regulator standards, among others.”

Edited by Zandile Mavuso
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor: Features



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