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Let the Train Blow the Vuvuzela: South Africa’s Transnet Buys Advanced GE Locomotives

March 17, 2014

South Africa’s Transnet Freight Rail moves every pound of coal and iron ore exported by the country, and close to a fifth of the nation’s freight. That makes the railroad a key player in South Africa’s economic revival. It plans to spend Rand 200 billion ($18.6 billion) on expanding capacity and increasing cargo volume.

Transnet said today that it would buy 233 advanced Evolution Series locomotives developed by GE Transportation. This new purchase comes on top of 143 locomotives that Transnet ordered from GE since 2010.

Core parts of the locomotives including the engines will be made in the U.S. The machines will be assembled at a customer facility in South Africa.

GE has invested more than $500 million to develop the Evolution Series line since 2005. It is currently most advanced heavy-haul, diesel-electric locomotive in the world. It uses advanced materials, computer-controlled operating architecture and dynamic breaking.

The technology will help Transnet lower fuel and maintenance costs, and add a new muscle to South Africa’s hauling capability. A single North American Evolution Series locomotive can pull the equivalent of 170 Boeing 747 jetliners.


Each 130-ton red, green and yellow locomotives can zip along the rails at 62 mph and haul 3,840 tons of freight. That’s because GE engineers developed a new locomotive with 12-cylinder “Evolution” engine which can deliver  4,200 horsepower, 27 percent more than the model being supplied by GE today. They also came up with a new, efficient way to transfer power from the engine to the wheels.

A diesel-electric locomotive works like a power plant on rails. The diesel engine converts the fuel into electricity, which then spins the traction motors that drive the axles.

 By relying on breakthrough technology that uses alternating current (AC), the designers were able to power and control individual axles, increase hauling power and reduce slippage on start-ups and inclines.

Today there are more than 6,000 Evolution Series locomotives serving in 10 countries, including Australia, Brazil, China and the U.S. GE estimates that the locomotives cut emissions by 40 percent and use 5 percent less fuel than older GE models.