The train carries 200 wagons and can haul 16,800 tonnes of coal at 80km/hour to the country’s main coal ports.
It makes 580km journeys from mines in Mpumalanga southeast to Richards Bay coal terminal on the coast possible without having to change locomotives because some lines use alternating current and some direct.
Toshiba has had 110 of its dual-powered trains put in service since 2009.
Diesel locomotives on the coal route will be phased out by General Electric models.
The Shongololo is part of a 201billion rand ($AU20billion) rail renovation and expansion plan rolled out by Transnet SOC, aimed at boosting exports of coal, manganese and other resources from Africa’s major industry.
The state-owned rail operator worked alongside Bombardier, CSR Zhuzhou Electric Locomotives and China CNR to manufacture the locomotives locally and increase freight capacity.
Before the Shongololo was active, the trains would have to stop at Ermelo en-route from the Mpumalanga province to the port.
With the train compatible with both currents used on the tracks, transport time has been dramatically reduced.
Transnet’s upgrades have already shown results, with a record of 70 million tonnes of coal shipped form the port last year.