Rail hikes force big loads on to roads

2009-03-23 00:00

THE practice by Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) of implementing consistently high tariff increases is forcing one major timber industry player, NCT Forestry, away from rail transportation and on to the highways.

Timber volumes on the midlands branch lines - loaded by co-operatives and NCT Forestry - have halved over the past five years.

Emerging, small-scale growers in particular are feeling the pinch of having to use "inconvenient" and "unsuitable" road-based solutions, NCT Forestry co-operative logistics manager Bruce Goatley told The Witness.

TFR argues that it is doing everything in its power to encourage the usage of rail.

However, TFR spokesman Sandile Simelane said TFR's investment in revitalising and growing rail capacity will be done "in a manner that makes economic sense".

"Traffic that is best suited for road - should not be forced on rail, with TFR then expected to carry the additional costs associated with moving 'wrong' traffic," he said.

The issue brings to the fore the undoubted shift of agricultural cargoes away from rural rail networks and on to the overburdened roads, placing further strain on the road infrastructure.

Tariff increases have been the main driver of this shift.

"Any new route traffic priced by TFR is more than double the cost of road transport on a similar route," Goatley said.

Despite these hefty increases, Simelane said that the current rail tariff is not a true reflection of what should be charged "if TFR were to recover its full economic cost".

kavith@witness.co.za

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