In the loop
Transnet looks to Swaziland
TRANSNET WILL COMPLETE a new railway line within the next two to three years that will cross Swaziland. The line – about 70km long – will become a “side track” to loop all general freight through Swaziland and free the line from Ermelo in Mpumalanga to move coal on the existing coal export railway line to Richards Bay. Transnet CEO Brian Molefe says the plan might well make it possible for the public utility to increase capacity on its coal export corridor to around 95m tonnes/year.
The current capacity of exports at the Richard Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) is 91m tonnes/year but Transnet is only delivering around 62m tonnes/year, due to a number of different challenges – the chief ones being ageing infrastructure, overhead power cable theft and outdated technology. Transnet Freight Rail’s (TFR) ageing and mainly unreliable locomotive fleet is another problem. Over the next five years Transnet will spend R23bn on new locomotives, which includes 110 Class 19E dual-voltage locomotives to be used mainly on the coal export line.
With regard to the proposed plan, Molefe says recently reappointed TFR head Siyabonga Gama is already working with Swaziland’s railway authorities to determine the best way forward to develop the new loop line. Gama says Swazirail has told him it may be possible to finance the proposed project with funds sourced from development banking institutions based in Washington, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The proposed loop is likely to run from Ermelo into Swaziland towards Mbabane and then to Mthatha, before ending at Richards Bay. Molefe says the plan is to send all general freight via the proposed Swaziland route. “That will then free up the equivalent space on the Richards Bay line for just coal.”
Transnet plans to move 70m tonnes of coal along the existing rail network in its current financial year. An increase in coal rail capacity to levels of 95m tonnes/year will be well received by SA’s coal mining industry and could prompt new investment in such mines.
Gama says more investment is critical, especially with regard to increasing capacity from the coal-rich Waterberg, north of Pretoria – SA’s largest untapped coal resource. A number of mining groups – including Anglo American – are already involved in developments in the area. Gama says the constraints down the line need to be fixed first.
“With the bottleneck hitting Transnet at Ermelo to Richards Bay, it wouldn’t make sense to invest in new capacity in the Waterberg before we sort out the constraints on the corridor from Ermelo.” Gama says Transnet aims to start adding additional rail capacity in the Waterberg region around five years from now.