Let us take a ride aboard 11E035 as it leads a 22,000 plus gross tonne coal train from Ermelo to Vryheid and then see what we can catch for a ride back
Yes, I stated 22,000 gross. These are the heaviest regular service coal trains in the world having four (4) 11E e-loks and 200 wagons, that is of course, the 100 tonne type CCL jumbo wagons.
It is rainy in Ermelo today, but rumor has it that further down the line, the sunlight may be seen.
Having signed in, and with footplate pass in hand, up we go and down the line we roll!
The rake of wagons on the right side adjacent track indicate that there may be soon another departure. Those low sided wagons also indicate that the next train will be hauled by 7E1
and/or 7E3 type locos as the 11E units are usually kept hauling the jumbo wagons.
The 11E, along with all the other AC electric locomotives in service on Spoornet, do not have the ability to regenerate power and send it back into the overhead trolley wire during periods of dynamic braking. Instead, South African electrics use rheostatic braking, just as the diesels, to provide
a means to dump away the large amount of traction motor generated electric current.
As the South African Coal Line runs from the high veldt coal fields down to the tidewater port of Richards Bay, the 11E locos were designed, from day one, to withstand the rigors of high powered rheostatic braking service. The same can not be said for the 7E1 and 7E3 classes.
The only reason that Spoornet does not use regenerative braking and earn some return credit from the South African electric utility Eskom, is that Eskom refuses to accept AC traction return power from the railways. Yikes! This is not a nice subject, and this little issue works against the cost of maintaining all the infrastructure required to provide traction power for the e-loks. It is not too far fetched to
contemplate that some day, in the future, this line could become dieselized. Especially
since today's diesels have come a long way since the late 1970's when the decision was made to construct the electrified Coal Line. Want to see the possible future of heavy haul traction in South Africa? Go to the Queensland section of this website and look at those nice EMD-Siemens
GT42CUAC d-loks. AC diesel traction on 3'-6", 1067 mm, that is pushing aside the QR Bo-Bo-Bo electrics.
In the meantime, get your photographs as these 11E machines are approaching 17 years of service in
this demanding railway traction environment.
The stations and railway sections NOT photographed due to the poor lighting are: Ermelo (kp 0.0), Camden (kp 10), Overvaal (kp 19), Maviristad (kp 27), Sheepmoor (kp 36), Ngwempisi (kp 45), Panbult (kp 52), Iswepe (kp 63), Wildrand (kp 80), Kemp (kp 90), Piet Retief (kp 98), Mkondo (kp 110), Moolman (kp 120), Confidence (kp 128), and Commondale (kp 137).
Note: some of the stations are nothing more than station signs and/or crossovers.
When the sunlight finally got through the rainy weather, the section of railway
photographed was: Hlungwana (kp 146), Paulpietersburg (kp 154), Mahulumbe (kp 162), Mqwabe (kp 174), Zungwini (kp 184), and Vryheid-Oos (kp 207).
Because the sunlight was in and out, I was not able to photograph this entire section of railway. So what I have to show below is truly only a very small sample of the Coal Line. Hopefully, I shall return to the Coal Line in the spring of 2004 and capture on digi a sampling of the entire line from Ermelo to Richards Bay.
Many of the images shown below present to the viewer a single track railway and not the well known double track heavy haul Coal Line. It so happens that many of these images show the 'old' double track Coal Line before the modernization during the mid 1980's. The modernization brought about new lower gradient routes (1:160 max), a railway capable of 26 tonnes per axle loading, large bore tunnels so that diesels could be used and not become oxygen starved or overheated, and other improvements that in the end would allow the yearly tonnage of the Coal Line to steadily increase. Much of the modernization work required
completely new alignments that have resulted in some sections of the Coal Line being single tracked. However, for most of the line from Ermelo to Richards Bay, the 'old' double track railway is indeed the norm.
In some of the images, the viewer can see that some ground work is being performed. I
understand this is all being driven by the need to further stabilize the road bed and that the rationalization of the
track work is still ongoing.
A good source of info regarding the Coal Line surfaced in the October/November 1985 issue of RAILWAYS as an article "Richard's Bay - Improvements costing R1,2 billion", by Mr. Mike Myburgh, then Chief Civil Engineer South African Transport Services. RAILWAYS, was a South African publication by Target Communications, P.O. Box 404, Jukskei Park, 2153, tele (011) 704-1539, and I do not know if they are still in