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Rail wagons old and new The manufacture of new rail wagons and refurbishment of old wagons is the main work of Transnet Rail Engineering Uitenhage.


ined up at the southern end of Transnet Rail Engineering’s (TRE’s) workshops in Uitenhage are hundreds of decrepit and shapeless wagons. Box wagons with doors falling off, coal wagons that can carry no load, others no more than bare platforms on wheels. Some wagons hardly fit the description of ‘wagon’ any more. There The old wagons are lined up waiting to be transformed. are hundreds of them, trailing off on tracks towards the small town of Despatch, past several huge stacks of scrap metal, and on around the bend towards the massive buildings that house the workshops of Volkswagen South Africa. It is the scrap metal that provides the clue to what is going on here: nothing less than the Refurbished wagons are assembled from their derelict complete transformation of predecessors. TRE Uitenhage will refurbish 1 648 wagons almost useless machinery into in 2012. shiny, ‘as-new’ rail wagons that will go back into the national fleet, ready to transport tons of freight over in the massive national infrastructure drive by thousands of kilometres of railway line. delivering new wagons to a variety of clients. With Transnet and all its subsidiaries ramping The main client, as with many TRE businesses, up capacity at a rapid rate, TRE Uitenhage’s wagon is Transnet Freight Rail (TFR), but new wagons business has had to step up. In 2011, the divi- have also been made for Rio Tinto’s coal operasion refurbished 723 coal wagons. In 2012, it tions in Mozambique and for the Botswana govwill more than double that output and remake ernment. The latest contract will see 160 salt a total of 1 648 wagons. wagons delivered to Botswana. The new-build section of the plant, which TFR has ordered 350 new-generation automoonly started operating in 2009, is playing its part tive wagons as part of its drive to get freight off

eastern cape business 2013



Wagon facts

the road and onto rail. With each double-decker SLC18-wagon costing R1.6-million, this is a significant investment in the Transnet group’s strategy. The auto-wagon has a hydraulic middle section, and can be configured to carry most vehicles. It is also fully sealed for safety. When the assembly line is working at full capacity, three or four wagons can be produced in a day, although in the case of the more complicated auto-wagon, this will probably be oneper-day (once the prototype is complete). The Rio Tinto contract for 200 wagons was completed in three production months. A depot at New Brighton does wagon maintenance, but major repairs are done in Uitenhage.

• The Uitenhage plant’s Fabrication sec-

tion is the only one in South Africa that makes its own materials. • TRE Uitenhage’s R4.1-million plasma cutter is the very latest in new technology. Lasers are used to cut steel very fast to computer-programmable settings. • The average wagon refurbishment percentage (the amount of fixing-up required) is 82%. • Wagon refurbishment can cost anything between R50 000 and R600 000.

Working hard and doing it right Wagons business unit manager Thembeni Nofemele has reason to be proud of the work that he and his staff are doing. On a tour of the four large workshops where wagons are made from scratch and remade from nearscrap, it was easy to Thembeni Nofemele imagine how proud Thembeni’s father, a retired Transnet welder from De Aar, must be of his son. Growing up in a town that is an important rail junction inspired a love of travel in the young Thembeni. After matriculating in De Aar in 1998 and gaining diesel electrical qualifications, Thembeni earned an NQF5 in Operational Management. He moved to Uitenhage just as the new-build programme began in 2009. Writer for Eastern Cape Business John Young visited TRE Uitenhage’s plant to see firsthand the work that the organisation is doing.

‘Our tour showed small teams of workers concentrating hard on the task at hand. Overhead cranes dragged big components from one part of the high-ceilinged workshops to another, intensely hot furnaces hissed urgently, and the evidence of welding seemed to be sparking everywhere we looked. ‘Just as the photographer and I commented to Thembeni on how impressed we were by the cleanliness of every work space that we had seen, we came across two tiny pieces of litter. We thought it was quite funny but surely not serious, given that this was an industrial site. Thembeni’s tone of voice told us otherwise, and the litter was gone before we had a chance to register what it was. ‘The secret behind the neatness evidently lies in an incentive scheme that rewards teams every month with tickets to the football (TRE Uitenhage has a box at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium) or braai packs. Training in other areas also seems to be working. At one point the photographer took his earphones off but a section supervisor quickly stepped up and insisted, “In the workshop, earphones in,” Thembeni smiled.’


eastern cape business 2013

Rail wagons old and new  

The manufacture of new rail wagons and refurbishment of old wagons is the main work of Transnet Rail Engineering Uitenhage.

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