Tracks cleared after accident

The CEO of the national railway carrier wants the fleet of “old locomotives” to be replaced.

08 April 2021 | Accidents

Johny Smith; TransNamib CEO; “… we need to replace the entire fleet to provide a safe and reliable service to Namibian freight owners.”

Swakopmund • [email protected]

The scene of the derailment in Swakopmund has been cleared and the rail artery to and from the coast has been restored.

Four locomotives, 25 fuel and container wagons were involved in the derailment on 16 March 2021, causing extensive damage to the railway line.

Cranes were deployed and the salvage operation was completed by Sunday, 21 March, at considerable cost.

TransNamib corporate communications officer Abigail Raubenheimer confirmed that investigations are ongoing to determine the cause of the accident.

“There is not much to tell at the moment. It is quite an intensive and time-consuming process. Our engineering department restored the line after a couple of days and it is fully operational.”

Raubenheimer said that no final figure was yet available on the cost of the damage incurred by TransNamib due to the derailment.

“We cannot put a price on the life that was lost. We are busy with assessing the cost in terms of the damage which was extensive to our rolling stock and infrastructure. The investigation will put a cost estimate to this.”

TransNamib CEO Johny Smith visited the accident scene shortly after the incident, which claimed the life of the assistant locomotive driver, Wilhelm Nongameni Joseph.

Smith described the derailment as amongst the worst in the history of Namibia and called for the replacement of the TransNamib locomotive fleet in an interview with Namib Times.

“We know that we have very old locomotives; we need to replace the entire fleet to provide a safe and reliable service to Namibian freight owners,” he said at the accident scene.

TransNamib's senior engineer Joe van Zyl was quoted as saying in The Namibian in 2014 that the average age of locomotives owned by TransNamib is 47 years, and that the coaches can be safely used for up to 60 years if well maintained.

Government bought six new locomotives to the tune of N$300 million for TransNamib from General Electric in 2017.

Back then former acting chief executive officer of TransNamib, Mbahupu Hippy Tjivikua – who received the shipment – said that apart from the six new locomotives, TransNamib owned 97 of which only 52 were operational, with some more than 50 years old.

Tjivikua indicated that TransNamib would need at least 80 new locomotives to replace the existing fleet, adding that it would be more costly to refurbish the old than to acquire the new.

The board of the African Development Bank approved a loan of N$2 billion in December 2017 for Namibia to upgrade a 210km stretch of railway between Walvis Bay and Kranzberg over three years. The loan also covers the upgrade of the road from Windhoek to the international airport.

The minister of works and transport John Mutorwa officiated the start of the upgrade of the Walvis Bay to Kranzberg railway line at Arandis in December 2020.