Sishen–Saldanha railway line, a record breaker.

A train of true significance.

When we recently visited my Son in Kathu I had the pleasure of observing a train being loaded with iron ore. 342 trucks each with 100 tons of ore, 34200 tons on its way to Saldanha Port, 861 km (538 miles) away.

Here are some interesting facts about the train…

Trains employing Radio Distributed Power (RDP) technology. These 41,400 tonnes total mass, 3780 metres (2.36 miles) long trains, that use 8 locomotives and 342 wagons, are the longest production trains in the world.

The longest and heaviest train that carried ore from Sishen mine to Saldanha Bay, was a 7,5km (4.69 mile) train of 660 wagons which carried 68 640 tonnes of ore.

Here are some interesting facts about the Port…

Significant capital has been spent to increase iron ore exports from the deep-water port to meet the growing demand. The infrastructure’s set to further expand as the port is gearing up to increase capacity on the rail line in the future. Current infrastructure at the port comprises two rotary tipplers, four stacker/ re-claimers, two ship-loaders and 25 conveying systems, providing the terminal with a capacity to load 10 000 tonnes per hour into a vessel.

  • Operating 24/7, the ore quay at Saldanha has two berths where two vessels of 310 000 DWT can simultaneously berth at the iron ore jetty.
  • From arrival to departure – including piloting, berthing, loading, draft survey and de-berthing; an ore vessel carrying 170 000 tonnes will be in Saldanha Bay for just 24 hours. A vessel carrying 210 000 tonnes will spend 32 hours in the port, while a vessel carrying 240 000 tonnes of ore will be there for 48 hours.
  • Saldanha Bay Port is bigger than Durban, Cape Town’s Table Bay, Richards Bay and Port Elizabeth’s harbours combined.
  • Saldanha Port Operations submits an annual Environmental Report in line with the Global Reporting Initiative. It respects that it’s located in an ecologically sensitive area, and takes all measures possible to manage the area responsibly.
  • In 2011, 37 100 000 tons of iron ore was exported by Kumba from Saldanha Bay to customers in countries and regions around the world. (approx. 1000 train loads of ore)And the few photos that I managed to capture… it is difficult to photograph a train of this length… but suffice it to say, it is long…

Len 10-10-2012 079

Len 10-10-2012 080

and this is what they are loading… although it would be crushed to a smaller size than this piece of approx. 2.5 tons…

Len 10-10-2012 115

Len 10-10-2012 116

36 thoughts on “Sishen–Saldanha railway line, a record breaker.

    • Hi Len… I never mind when someone corrects me…. firstly it means you read my blog, secondly it shows you have an interest in the subject and thirdly it helps others that read the blog and comments… so for that I thank you for your comment and please come again and read a few more of the 800+ blogs that I’ve posted… best regards

      • The Sishen Saldanha project was a record breaker in many more respects. Some interesting info regarding. (Most probably rather inaccurate from memory. It was a project that someone should write a book about) It started on a false note. The railways said it could not be done. Yskor had to get special permission from parliament to build a ‘private’ line. A lot of records came about for that time and here I might not have it all correct. The longest ore line, the longest ‘private’ line, the longest train, the most locos, the most ore, the longest train to turn around and not be shunted, the fastest loading, the most km laid in a day, the biggest ship loaded in an SA harbour, etc, etc. Some brilliant solutions were thought up. A new bogie (Wheel carriage) was developed to make all possible. This is currently working all over the world because it is so brilliant. Another first, a management system was developed to make all the locos in a single train share the work evenly. Many revolutionary designs around building the line. This project is something we can still be very proud of. Someone with good research capabilities should tackle this and write a book before all the project engineers of the time die of old age.

          • ‘In the old days’ when it was still Yskor all this info would have been available at head office library, close to the Voortrekker monument. Some would be in the project files. I guess if one could get hold of copies of the Yskor Nuus, (I think it was a monthly publication) of those years they would all be there. The real nice stories (Of which I know one or two) one will have to glean from the survivors of that project team. They must be rather old by now.

        • Hi Pieter,
          I am very happy to read your post as it brings back memories. I had the chance and pleasure to be part of the project and worked as a railway controler in 75 and 76 for Spie Batignolles.
          I was based in Vredenburg close to Saldanha and remember very well all the people working on the track. Are you related to Sten and de Waal Company which was one of the partner ?
          I still have pictures of that time and remember the train deraiment which occured because of a heavy rain. I guess everything is ok by now.
          All the best and thank you for your post.
          Cordially yours
          Stéphane de Wellenstein (french)

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  2. I Joined the project department shortly after the project was completed in 1979. The technical stories and challenges told were absolutely fascinating. I would like to get hold of anyone that have some stories to tell about the difficulties they experienced during the original project. The project was at the forefront of technology in the world at that stage. Some brilliant designs and solutions were done and should be written down for our children. Iscor was great and something we can be very proud of.

  3. If there are 8 locomotives, the question is “is this a real train or modified conveyor betl”. a real train should have locomotives in front and maybe a helper at rear. The strength of the couplings shall the issue.

    • Special couplings had to be designed originally. Nothing the SA railways had could handle the forces. The coupling must also ‘twist’ as the wagons must be turned through 180 degrees for offloading, two at a time. This was upgraded more than once. The final solution came when they got the management system right to synchronise the locos to share the load evenly. They are all controlled with a radio signal. They can have locos at the front, rear and more than one pack in between. The distances could be measured in km. We were the first in the world to sort that one out.

  4. I recently heard that service road alongside the line has been closed to the public. Then a month ago I bumped into a Transnet official in Loeriesfontein and said the road was still open to the public. Do you know something about this?

    • Thank you.. it is a site to see… hoping at some time to get an invite into the mine to see the loading of these trains which is all automatic…

  5. I do the planning of the locomotives used on these trains! Total fleet of 150 and we combine the electrics with the diesels. 4 sets of engines on the train, all operated by one driver from the front

    • Thank you for there visit and look in.. I spend hours trying to capture good shots of the trains when they leave Kathu.. next time I’m there maybe I can get a tour of the loading etc from you..????

  6. That longest train was very long indeed. Hubby has been to Sishen many times, commissioning work that his company did there. Thanks for the photos; first time I’ve seen what a huge piece of iron ore looks like. 🙂

  7. Hi Bulldog, fascinating data here! My late Dad used to be the Boss at Iscor, and was therefore involved with the Sishen mines. I was a Project Accountant for the building of Saldanha Steel in the early ’90’s! I imagine some of this iron ore coming from Sishen is also delivered to Saldanha Steel plant – is it still operational? I also didn’t realise that the bay area is bigger than all our other ports combined! We avoided it when we were there due to the horrible smells coming from the Fish canning factories there. Laura

    • Laura… thanks for the comment … I was an employee of Iscor when I left Rhodesia in 1975, but only for a year and then moved on… the Saldanha steel plant I think ended up being sold on and wither or not it’s still operational I cannot say…
      I know there was problems with the new owner of Iscor (now called something else) and Kumbe Iron ore, I have to assume he took over that plant as well… but the info I got was from a PR woman in Kathu and I never asked any other info except what you read… but now I shall dig deeper to find these things out…

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