Need for change to address challenges in rail sector

6th March 2020 By: Mc'Kyla Nortje - Journalist

Despite the local rail industry in South Africa constituting a sizeable and critical portion of the economy, and being well developed, compared with the rest of Africa, the rail infrastructure is not properly maintained, says rail equipment manufacturer Evorail GM Daniel Tchengoue.

“The biggest challenge for the rail sector is the quality of the infrastructure. There is an obvious lack of effective maintenance and innovation.”

The industry seems “fragmented and in need of some drastic changes” to bring about positive results to balance the challenges of the past few years, adds Tchengoue.

Apart from the lack of maintenance, another challenge the industry is facing is vandalism of rail infrastructure. This, in turn, leads to the requirement for extra security to protect infrastructure.

For example, the frequent occurrence of vandalism requires more security measures for rail infrastructure.

Tchengoue says that, with the type of technology currently available, many of these challenges should have been mitigated already. 

Further, he says the dominance in the market of State-owned enterprises (SOEs) Transnet and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa is not “conducive to growth” in terms of infrastructure and industry revenue. 

There is a lack of support for the private sector in the industry, and government’s lack of clarity in the direction it has envisioned for industry exacerbates the problem, he states.

Tchengoue notes that rail infrastructure is a highly skilled industry, and although the local industry is losing a significant number of skilled workers, not much effort is being put into replacing this gap at public and private level. 

Additionally, the lack of innovation within the industry is another challenge, as is  the heavy reliance on foreign suppliers for big capital projects, which is still a concerning factor, he adds. 

“This, combined with localisation programmes not being effectively implemented, is hindering the economy from growing and reaching its potential.”

Tchengoue tells Engineering News that Evorail believes that government and SOEs should play the role of guiding the rail industry by creating an enabling space in which privately owned companies can operate, as this will enable the private sector to develop innovative solutions. 

He adds that the private sector is constantly seeking solutions that can be adopted for South Africa in the international market. 

Tchengoue highlights that, for private companies to deliver innovative solutions, it requires funds for research and development, as well as a clear directive from government, SOEs and the regulatory bodies.

Scope of Work

Evorail is a small startup focusing on two main aspects of rail infrastructure: shunting vehicle and technology development. 

The company is designing and supplying shunting locomotives for shunting and branch line operations. 

“We are . . . designing a standard gauge unit that will suit current developments in the African market, where many countries are considering . . . migration to a wider rail gauge,” he adds. 

The company is using advanced control system technologies to maximise performances, minimise losses and provide locomotives that are maintenance friendly and efficient.

Evorail provides consulting services that involve compliance assessments against standards and regulatory frameworks. This enables the company to assess a customer’s site and provide data-based recommendations on what, as well as the size and what type of, rolling stock to use, says Tchengoue.

The company also designs and implements nonstandard technology solutions, which are based on its assessment of gaps in the market and customer requests. Such solutions include vacuum retrofit systems, passenger vehicle light-emitting-diode lighting solutions, rear-view cameras, asset-tracking and -management systems, traction controllers, retrofit vigilance, speed limiters and data logging systems, as well as global positioning system speedometers.

Tchengoue says Evorail hopes to find the right partners to develop its solutions into viable products that will benefit the rail industry not only locally but also in Africa. 

“We are aiming to be the number one supplier of shunting locomotive services and products in Africa, including shunting vehicles and technology solutions for asset management and integration.”