TFR says the 4km-long train, which carried a payload of 22,500 tonnes of manganese ore, breaks its previous record for a commercially-operated iron-ore train, which was formed of 342 wagons.

The metre-gauge Sishen - Saldanha line has a ruling gradient of 0.37% for loaded trains and is electrified at 50kV ac with a maximum axleload of 30 tonnes. Trains operate using Radio Distributed Power with three 114-wagon rakes separated by three locomotive consists.

Manganese volumes on the single-track line have doubled since 2005-2006 and in 2017-2018 were close to the 60 million-tonne limit imposed by the line’s infrastructure and current train length.

TFR’s Rail Development Plan, which was published in 2016, envisages export manganese volumes on the Sishen - Saldanha line increasing to 62.2 million tonnes by 2030 and 72.2 million tonnes by 2045.

“This is another breakthrough for the heavy-haul railway industry,”” says TFR general manager and chairman of the International Heavy Haul Association (IHHA) Mr Brian Monakali. “Collaboration on technical research and sharing of best practice by Heavy Haul operations worldwide will surely keep pushing the operations, safety and rail capacity envelope to new levels through application of breakthrough technology”.