Road-rail vehicle innovator introduces RailBus

Olifantsfontein-based road-rail vehicle (RRV) manufacturer RailPro has developed a bimodal vehicle that transports people and goods on road and rail, says MD Ed Magan.

The vehicle, called RailBus, was launched in June.

RailPro seeks to address ‘mobility poverty’ in rural and urban areas in emerging markets. He explains that the key variables that define mobility poverty are affordable access to jobs and markets, access to healthcare, education, and food and water.

“In South Africa, many rural communities are isolated, there is increasing car ownership, congestion, poor road development and maintenance, dependence on minibus taxis, high population densities and underused rail.”

He notes that close to the cities, persons living in extreme poverty pay up to 60% of their income for taxi fares, which he calls “an effective mobility tax”. He adds that thousands of rural dwellers are situated close to existing rail lines.

Further, he comments that high-tariff road taxi routes often run adjacent to empty rail lines in the same areas. The RailBus will allow for exploitation of underused rail routes, offering lower tariffs and vastly improving transit time and predictability, and reduce road congestion, he enthuses.

There are about 9 000 km of largely unused branch lines in the country, which are all narrow Cape gauge width; of these, 4 000 km of track is in usable condition, suitable for the RailBus, he advances.

“While some of these lines are not in optimum condition for conventional railway locomotives and carriages, the RailBus is a light vehicle, with a robust suspension system, designed and well-suited to adapting to varying conditions, both on and off rail.”

RailPro developed a patented direct-drive technology that allows a truck to drive on rail, exactly as it does on road. The company uses normal trucks which are retrofitted with a retractable rail undercarriage, which comprises a retractable set of axles and steel rail wheels.

The rail gear is hydraulically activated and the wheels are lowered onto the rail in seconds – the rail axles are powered with RailPro’s direct-drive system, which recently won the South African Bureau of Standards Design Excellence Awards. Magan explains that the truck’s own engine delivers the drive to the rear rail wheels and he enthuses that the vehicle uses less than 50% of the diesel for every kilometre travelled on rail than when on the road.

Moreover, capital and operational costs of the RailBus are significantly cheaper than conventional rolling stock. He points out that conventional carriages hauled by a diesel locomotive cost about R20-million and says the RailBus should be more than ten times cheaper.

Magan further notes that, of crucial importance is the fact that financial institutions are comfortable financing fleets of trucks.

Further, he advances that truck dealerships are already in situ as frontline support and the RRVs can be assembled and maintained in local workshops. “No specialists or specialist parts are needed, and when you remove the rail gear, the vehicle can be sold back into the road market,” he highlights.

The RailBus has attracted significant international interest but Magan is adamant that the RailBus, as an innovative product of a South African company, should be manufactured in South Africa.

“We are trying to create South African jobs and ultimately be able to export RailBus internationally, thereby creating valuable export revenue for the country.”

Five RailBuses will be developed and trials will be carried out on a 21-km route between Cullinan and Mamelodi through Rayton. The company is in discussions with potential local partners as well as banks to procure the capital to build the first fleet and the company is also “talking extensively” with State-owned freight utility Transnet. Magan says as soon as the company procures finances, it will take three months from the moment the chassis arrive to the moment the vehicles will roll out of the factory.

The RailBus will also use electronic design engineers Inteletrack’s traffic management technology. The technology is a dual Global System for Mobile communications/Iridium traffic management system relayed to smart phones.

Inteletrack MD Manie Bernard notes that, when the RailBus is running on the railway lines, railway signalling will be needed to authorise the vehicle to drive on the line. He explains that Inteletrack will install a WiFi hotspot in the vehicle, which will connect to the satellite and a smartphone will display where the vehicle is, where it is authorised to move, as well as the speed limit.

The system works with an application that Inteletrack developed. Further, Inteletrack’s technology will also monitor the vehicle when it travels on the road, Bernard adds. Additional data will be collected and monitored through a regular telematics system to monitor the critical parameters of the RailBus, such as whether the rail wheels are up or down, the fuel level, and oil and water temperatures.

Inteletrack’s traffic management technology harnesses satellite and communications technologies, Magan notes, adding that the only way RailPro can develop a ubiquitous passenger service on rail is through new and modern communication systems.

He hopes that, in the future, individual metros or local government responsible for urban passenger transport, will look at adopting the RailBus to supplement their current public transport offerings.

South African Road-Rail Bus Launched

SOUTH AFRICA: Gauteng-based manufacturer RailPro is testing a road-rail vehicle intended for passenger transport on a railway line east of Pretoria.

State-owned transport group Transnet is working with RailPro on the trials, which are being carried out on a 21 km route between Cullinan and Mamelodi via Rayton. Five RailBus vehicles are being used for the proof of concept, ahead of a more detailed feasibility study.

The RailBus is built on the chassis of an Isuzu 8 tonne lorry. It has retractable wheels so that it can run on rail, in addition to rubber-tyred wheels for road use. Isuzu has expressed interest in producing the vehicle at its South African plant, and Tata and Volvo subsidiary UD Trucks have issued standard warranties for RailPro’s designs.

The prototypes have been developed with the aid of a grant from the SAB Foundation. RailPro envisages that future costs could be met through social impact funding or crowdfunding.

RailPro CEO Ed Magan believes that the RailBus would be suitable for many South African railway branch lines, where heavier locomotive-hauled stock is expensive or difficult to operate. He points out that 4 000 route-km of the 9 000 km of largely unused 1 067 mm branch lines are still in usable condition.

The company envisages both rural and urban applications, and hopes eventually to win export orders. It says that the vehicle can run for up to 6 km per litre of diesel when on rail, leading to fuel cost savings of up to 50% compared with a conventional diesel bus.

Once the RailBus concept has been tested, RailPro intends to test a RailFreighter, which would offer a similar concept designed for farmers bringing produce to market.

SA-designed ‘RailBus’ could revolutionise passenger and freight transport

RailPro has developed a ‘bi-modal vehicle’ that transports people and goods on road and rail, with fuel consumption and maintenance costs ‘vastly cheaper’ than road vehicles or locomotives.

A Gauteng manufacturer of combined road and rail vehicles is proposing a solution to the public transport problems experienced by poor people in rural and peri-urban areas.

In SA, the onset of large cities growing into each other, or conurbation, has led to poor communities spending long times on travel and disproportionate amounts of money on essential travel. The effect this has on the economy is underscored in a new World Bank report, which cites limited or expensive transport connectivity as a contributory factor to poverty and inequality.

The company, RailPro, has developed what it calls a bi-modal vehicle that transports people and goods on road and rail. It has named the vehicle RailBus. Its salient feature is a South African-invented drive system fitted to an ordinary road-going, diesel-powered lorry (typically eight tonnes), which powers retractable rail wheels when needed.

RailPro envisages the deployment of its RailBus on about 4,000km of SA’s 9,000km of largely unused branch lines to service communities that arose along the country’s railways. The vehicle would also travel on main lines, where necessary.

CEO Ed Magan told a presentation to the media on Thursday that the RailBus’s fuel consumption can be as low as half that of a similar road vehicle due to the low friction of steel wheels on steel rails.

Even greater savings could be achieved when the RailBus is preferred over conventional passenger trains. Magan said the RailBus was a “vastly cheaper” means of transport than rail, with maintenance costs a fraction of those required for a locomotive, while consuming “more than 30 times less” fuel per kilometre than a locomotive pulling passenger wagons.

Magan said the RailBus could mount and dismount railway lines almost anywhere, but typically at level crossings. Creating a halt for the RailBus can be done at negligible cost. “[It] means commuters can board the bus at a conventional bus terminus before mounting the rails and driving more directly to its destination.”

RailPro said it would initially market its RailBus to local and provincial governments. Magan was unable to precisely quantify the number of potential passengers or the capacity of the market, referring instead to anecdotal evidence that large numbers of rural South Africans have little or no access to transport.

Transnet’s head of branch lines Jan-Louis Spoelstra said regulatory approval for the RailBus deployment was under way, pending the Rail Safety Regulator’s assessment, and a ruling was only months away.

A railway consultant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said using branch lines would contribute greatly to community development. “If the community relied on the railway tracks for passenger, and possibly freight transport of agricultural produce to market, they would most likely take ownership of the line and prevent it from being vandalised.”



Get On The RailBus

A new option for transporting South Africa’s commuters who might pay up to 60% of their salaries commuting to work is fast becoming a reality with the introduction of RailPro’s RailBus which was launched this week. The Road Rail Vehicle (RRV) bus can transport people on rail or road at up to half the cost in fuel terms than a conventional diesel bus.

The secret to its economy lies in RailPro’s patented direct drive system which recently won the SABS design excellence award. Designed by South African engineers, the drive system has an extended drive shaft which powers the retractable rail wheels from the bus’s own engine, allowing up to 6km per litre of diesel when on rail.  This saving, due to less friction of steel rail wheels on steel rails, can ideally be passed onto the consumer thereby reducing mobility poverty. RailBus offers a significant saving on fuel compared to a road bus, and a massive saving compared to a locomotive.

Professor Antonio Estache, Professor of Economics at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, and author of “Infrastructure and the Poor in Sub-Saharan Africa”, has called RailPro’s invention a “technically and socially smart idea.”

The launch of the project comes hot on the heels of a new report published by the World Bank that cites five “binding constraints” or causes of poverty and inequality – including limited or expensive connectivity and under-serviced historically disadvantaged settlements.  The report concluded that “strengthening transport connectivity, integrating transport planning and land use, improving intermodal transport, … are important to overcome the legacy of spatial exclusion, and reduce transportation costs and travel time for the poor.”

CEO of RailPro, Ed Magan, says the grant that RailPro won along with a prestigious innovation award from the SAB Foundation, was being used to convert buses into cheap and convenient transport, primarily for rural people.  He has his eyes on thousands of kilometres of virtually disused railway branch lines that were previously used to transport goods and people in rural areas to the main commercial centres.

Magan says, “There are roughly 9,000 kilometres of largely unused branch lines in South Africa, which are all narrow Cape gauge width. Of these, 4,000 km of track is in usable condition, suitable for the RailBus.

“These largely underutilised rail lines would allow for easier and safer transportation of rural commuters, including school children from their villages to the local towns and commercial centres.  Such a facility could also assist rural farmers to get their products to market faster and in a cost-effective manner”, Magan said.

“While some of these lines are not in optimum condition for conventional railway engines and carriages, the RailBus is a light vehicle, with a robust suspension system, designed and well suited to adapting to varying conditions, both on and off rail”, he said.

Magan is firm in his belief that the RailBus makes economic sense. Conventional carriages hauled by a diesel locomotive costs in the region of at least R20m. The RailBus is built on a normal 8-tonne truck, vastly cheaper, with maintenance costs a fraction of those required for a locomotive, whilst consuming over 30 times less fuel per kilometre than a locomotive pulling passenger wagons. And of crucial importance is the fact that financial institutions are comfortable financing fleets of trucks.

“The fact that the RailBus can mount and dismount the railway tracks means that commuters can board the bus at a conventional bus terminus before mounting the rails and driving more directly to its destination”, he said.

Magan is, however, hoping that in the future, individual metros or local government, responsible for urban passenger transport, will look at adopting the RailBus to supplement their current public transport offerings.

The RailBus has attracted a lot of international interest, but Magan is adamant that the RailBus is the innovative product of a South African company and should be manufactured in South Africa.  “We are trying to create South African jobs and ultimately be able to export Railbus internationally, thereby creating valuable export revenue for the country”, said Magan.

With a clear line of sight of demand, a global automotive company would like to manufacture the RailBus at their South African plant and support the venture through their distribution network already in place across the SADC region.

In 2017 the Department of Transport (DOT) commissioned Ernst and Young to carry out a strategic review of the socio- economic-impact of branch lines.  Published last year, the DOT is reportedly fully aware of where the RailBus can be deployed, highlighting five critically important branch lines, that with conventional locomotive offerings made passenger transport unaffordable.

Additionally, a draft white paper published last year by the Department of Transport says that urban commuters are increasingly challenged by road congestion and safety issues and that these, plus long travel times, negatively impacts on economic growth and commuter’s quality of life.

An independent railway consultant said this week that using the branch line network was “really worthwhile” as it would contribute vastly to community development. “If the community relied on the railway tracks for passenger and possibly freight transport of their agricultural produce to market, they would most likely take ownership of the line and prevent it being vandalised”.

The RailBus will be operated using accepted safety mechanisms such as existing traffic control systems on the rail line, speed limitation, proximity radar and telematic controls. With the advent of “internet of things” technologies, these systems are advancing rapidly, and Magan cited another world-leading technology out of South Africa, Inteletrack, who have developed a dual GSM/Iridium traffic management system relayed to smart-phones that is already successfully implemented in Zimbabwe and Zambia.


RailPro receives order to commission scissor lift aerial platform RRV

RailPro delivers further Crane RRV to Tractionel Enterprise…

RailPro has secured two further orders for the new Crane RRV (CRRV)

Following the launch of the RailPro 20 tonne crane RRV, and its placement with Tractionel Enterprise, RailPro has received a further two orders for Crane RRVs. The enhanced lifting capability with direct access to track and the significant increase in productivity that the vehicle offers is being well received in the market.

RailPro in Railways Africa…

Engineering News Publication…

Road-rail vehicle firm tailors new offering to rail maintenance market

Published 16 Dec 2016 By: Dylan Slater – Creamer Media Editor



A new 20 t Crane road-rail vehicle (RRV) was launched onto the South African market last month by Olifantsfontein-based rail systems manufacturer RailPro and is intended to meet the domestic requirements of rail infrastructure construction and general rail-related maintenance.

To date, RailPro has received three orders for Crane RRVs, with one being built and delivered and two currently under construction.

An RRV can travel on road as a regular vehicle using a set of tyres, but is used on rail lines using a retractable set of axles and steel rail wheels. For RailPro’s RRVs, regular trucks sourced from original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs), such as Isuzu, Tata and Kia, have been retrofitted with a retractable rail undercarriage. The rail gear is hydraulically activated in seconds and powered using the OEM gearbox and engine through a propulsion system known as the Direct Shaft Drive System (DSDS), which is developed by RailPro.

On-rail transit is made possible using the existing drive controls, comprising the engine and gearbox of the OEM trucks, on which the DSDS technology is installed as an add-on, thereby enabling an RRV driver to propel the truck using accelerator, brake and clutch pedals to activate the respective forward and reverse gears, as well as braking systems, similar to the way they would be engaged in a regular road vehicle.

The DSDS incorporates two rear-axle differentials – a standard OEM-fitted rear-drive differential and a rail wheel differential.

The switchover of the DSDS between road and rail operations is facilitated automatically through the touch of a button, which pneumatically activates the respective drive system – whether road differential or rail differential.

The new Crane RRV model complements RailPro’s existing lineup of six other vehicles, which include RRVs for personnel (carrying 43 passengers), light-duty inspection, welding, perway maintenance, liquid-carrying tankers and overhead track equipment maintenance.

RailPro has developed its DSDS to enable on-railperformance specifications and capabilities similar to the on-road specifications of a regular truck. This enables RailProRRVs to travel at speeds of up to 60 km/h in regular transit operations and at emergency speeds of up to 90 km/h.

In conjunction with the DSDS, a crawler function enables the RRVs to travel at a slower speed of 8 km/h using a hydrostatic drive system to allow for greater accuracy and safety when working in close proximity to hard-to-reach railinfrastructure. The crawler function can be activated on the side of the truck and by the operator in an elevated work platform. This hydraulic drive system is powered by the OEM truck engine.

The DSDS technology was recognised by standards and certifications company the South African Bureau of Standards in its Design Excellence Award in 2009.

The Crane RRV is designed to undertake installation of rail-associated infrastructure, such as poles of up to 14 m in length and general construction and maintenance of critical overhead track equipment. It can also be used with a purpose-built trolley, which is towable behind the RRV, and can carry four 14 m masts with a total loaded mass of 10.4 t.

The Pesci 185 T.4 crane mounted to the Crane RRV can lift 6.5 t at a minimum distance of 2.4 m and 1.3 t at a maximum distance of 10.1 m. It also has a maximum reach of 12 m and a 396° slewing/rotation angle. It has dual controls and is stabilised using two hydraulic swingable stabilisers.


RailPro has just delivered their first 20-tonne metre Crane Road Rail Vehicle (RRV)

The RailPro Crane RRV, intended for the maintenance and construction market, has recently been put into operation by Tractionel Enterprise, a leading rail Overhead Track Equipment (OHTE) and Overhead Contact Distribution Systems (OCDS) specialist in South Africa. Tractionel is currently using the new Crane RRV to plant 14.7m high masts and work on rail-side construction and maintenance tasks, which are critical to the OHTE infrastructure in South Africa. 

The Crane RRV is a purpose-designed vehicle that can operate on road or rail; it is also a safer platform to operate when lifting heavy equipment whilst on-rail in comparison all to other solutions currently on the market. Too often, operators are restricted to conventional road-going vehicles, and access to the railhead (via service roads) can present a challenge. RailPro’s Crane RRV is a flexible, mobile platform that is fully bimodal – it can use both road and rail to access the worksite, which increases the speed of access and therefore has a positive effect on productivity. Furthermore, the existing rail infrastructure is commonly more-reliable than any road network, which gives the Crane RRV an edge over its road-bound competition. For more information, please click on this link!


Just released… RailPro article in Railways Africa!

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RailPro will be demonstrating the Perway RRV at Brits…


RailPro Carry out Demonstration at Heidelberg TFR Depot…

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Engineering News Publication…

Gauteng road-rail vehicle innovator outlines semi-autonomous vision

Published 29 Jan 2016 By: Terence Creamer – Creamer Media Editor

South African road-rail vehicle (RRV) developer RailPro is pursuing a semi-autonomous-vehicle solution, which it believes could open up new market opportunities for its vehicles, which are currently employed primarily in maintenance and repair operations.

The company has pioneered a solution that enables trucks fitted with its retractable railway-wheels undercarriage to transmit power to the wheels through the vehicle’s existing gearbox.

The system, known as DSDS, has been patented and was recognised in 2009 with an SABS Design Excellence Award. It can be fitted to existing truck chassis with only minor modifications by the original equipment manufacturer and has, to date, been fitted to various large and small trucks available on the South African market.

CEO Ian Ross tells Engineering News Online that various RRV derivatives have since been developed, including a flat-bed construction vehicle used to maintain the permanent way, vehicles fitted with a mobile elevating work platform for the maintenance of overhead track equipment, a tanker, a welding RRV model, as well as inspection vehicles and a RailBus to transport workers to maintenance sites.

Some 21 RRVs utilising the DSDS system are currently operational across South Africa, but Ross admits that uptake has been below expectations. RailPro, which owns the DSDS technology, is backed by international investors and is seeking to conclude a shareholding structure with a strong black economic–empowerment profile, for operations in South Africa.

The focus in Africa remains the maintenance and repair market, which in South Africa is dominated by the large State-owned companies (SoCs), Transnet and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa. The company is also keen to sell to maintenance and repair organisations that service these SoCs, having recently sold an overhead track equipment RRV to electrical infrastructure specialists Tractionel Enterprise who will use the vehicle extensively for construction, refurbishment and maintenance of overhead track equipment.

Tractionel’s operations manager Juan Swart explains that a key advantage of the Railpro vehicle’s elimination of expensive imported railgear components.

RailPro is also beginning to pursue international prospects, with Ross seeing significant scope for the company’s lightweight, fuel-efficient semi-autonomous RRVs in both the freight and passenger market segments.

The company, which has manufacturing and assembly facilities in Olifantsfontein, Gauteng, is in talks with several partners outside of South Africa to begin autonomous RRV trials, using Tubular Track’s innovative ballastless modular track technology and Bombardier’s Interflo control system.

Ross says the intermodal solution could offer freight hauliers the option of using RRV trucks seamlessly across rail and road networks so as to lower operating costs. Likewise, certain rail passenger routes could be operated using RRVs fitted with roads and transport authority-approved coach bodies instead of expensive train sets more suited to higher-volume routes.

Primarily applicable in urban areas, Ross argues that a system comprising a modular track, autonomous drive technology and RailPro Railbuses could be an efficient and practical solution to addressing ‘mobility poverty’ in African cities.

“We still need to get out of the starting blocks on this offering, but we are close to concluding the partnerships needed to begin commercialising what we view as the next generation of RRVs,” Ross concludes.


Tractionel Enterprise have acquired their first RailPro OHTE RRV…

Tractionel Enterprise have acquired their first RailPro OHTE RRV. Tractionel’s Operations Manager, Juan Swart explains that a key driver in opting for the Railpro vehicle fitted with the DSDS™ system was the elimination of expensive and often troublesome imported rail gear components.

“It is reassuring to have local technical support, and knowledgeable local designers who understand the requirements we have both below and above the chassis,” Juan said. “For example, RailPro’s ability to produce a vehicle that can be easily and quickly adapted from standard to narrow gauge is a game changer for us, allowing us to service a broader client base. I believe that there is enormous potential for these RRV with the DSDS™ system in the wider African market.”


Rob Allen joins RailPro…

Rob Allen, who formerly managed the rail leasing fleet for Imperial Fleet Management has recently joined the team. Rob says “the RailPro offer is suitable across all gauges and for use across Africa. Our product range offers railway owners and contractors a quick and efficient platform for essential rail inspection, crew delivery and maintenance. I am also excited by intermodal opportunities, not only our RailBus product for connecting remote communities, but also adapting our existing offer to transport freight. We believe this has excellent prospects near and abroad. I look forward to overseeing increasing sales of our product into exciting new markets.”


RailPro Perway's…

Bidvest are running 19 Tata-based DSDS Perway RRVs on track in Bellville, Cape Town. This photo was taken during a refresher training course run by DSDS for Transnet Freight Railway in May 2015. These units have been in service for the past three years (owned by Bidvest, on FML to TFR).