Monday, February 7, 2011

SA Aatec keen to win high-speed rail bid

February 4 2011 - Business Report By Slindile Khanyile

African Alternative Technologies (Aatec) was currently negotiating with the government, state-owned entities, private sector companies and Mozambique to run a pilot project to test a high-speed transport system that it wanted to offer as an option to the government’s proposed fast rail link network, it said this week.

Aatec chief executive Thomas Munn said the firm had signed an exclusive dealership and manufacturing agreement with US-based LaunchPoint Technologies for the FasTransit stabilised permanent maglev high-speed transportation system.

Munn said the company was talking to the Department of Transport, parliament’s portfolio committee on transport, Grindrod, Exxaro Resources, Aveng, Passenger Rail Agency of SA, the Western Cape government and the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development.

FasTransit is a packet-switching transportation system that uses permanent magnets and linear motors to move freight, passengers and vehicles over high speed inter-city routes as well as within the urban environment.

“What is very important is that FasTransit’s system is a complete reinvention of maglev transportation (a transport system in which trains glide above a track, supported by magnetic repulsion and propelled by a linear motor). Local manufacture of wagons (has the potential to be) a huge job creator, which is one of government’s stated objectives for the high speed rail initiative and the deal we have struck entrenches this,” Munn said.

“For the Johannesburg-Durban fast rail, we can run both passenger and freight. Each carriage runs on its own, is automated and the tracks can be laid on the outside of the railway line, so the other trains can continue to run.”

Grindrod freight service managing director Dave Rennie said: “We have had preliminary discussions with Thomas Munn but we are not in negotiation stages. Further endorsement from government and other stakeholders would be required.”

Munn said the FasTransit system could be used on both rail and road, as it had thin rails of permanent magnets set at a 2m gauge on rail ties, on gravel, or in a roadbed.

The government is considering establishing a high-speed rail network for three routes, Durban-Johannesburg; Johannesburg-Cape Town and Johannesburg-Musina. The plan is expected to be approved by the cabinet later this year.

The Department of Transport yesterday denied talking to Aatec.

Commenting on the government’s proposal, Munn said he believed fast rail was the future and it would make the country competitive, leap-frogging existing technologies for rail.

“One of our major competitive disadvantages is our high transport costs, which are 40 percent higher than most countries. Fast rail is definitely the way to go,” he said.

Eric Mair, Aatec’s head of research and development, said: “We can increase the capacity of the existing railway lines without building a new line but by just laying down our permanent magnet rails and this would make it cheaper because we will eliminate the need for things such as widening of tunnels and bridges.”

Previous reports have estimated the rail link between Durban and Johannesburg would cost $30 billion (R215bn).