Transnet looks to build two new heavy haul rail lines

Transnet is looking for funding to build a heavy haul railway line to link South Africa and Swaziland. In addition, the parastatal aims to complete a feasibility study next year into a Waterberg-Botswana coal rail link.

Plans to construct a heavy haul coal rail link between the Waterberg coalfield in Limpopo and Botswana are still at a pre-feasibility stage, Transnet Freight Rail capital planning general manager Brian Monakali said this week.

Addressing delegates at the 11th International Heavy Haul Association Conference in Cape Town, Monakali said another heavy haul rail project to link South Africa and Swaziland was at the stage where funding for construction was being sought.

Monakali said the Waterberg-Botswana rail link would increase coal-carrying capacity and provide access to the neighbouring countries’ coalfields, given that the Witbank (Emalahleni) coal mines would eventually be depleted.

He said the South Africa-Swaziland rail link, with a distance of 575 km, would provide an alternative route to the ports of Richards Bay and Maputo.

“To support regional integration, a key component is to ensure regional connection. Next year or so, we will complete the [Waterberg and Botswana rail link] feasibility,” said Monakali.

“The South Africa and Swaziland rail link is about to begin … we will be upgrading the existing rail lines and trains to link Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana.”

Albert Links, an executive manager at Transnet Freight Rail, said that, six years ago, they embarked on a market demand strategy, which is rolling in a seven-year plan.

“We are spending billions of rands on various projects … the budget this year is targeted at R229 billion,” said Links.

“This includes local and international projects, capital projects, existing and new logistics systems for general freight business and export business.”

He said Transnet aligned its planning to demand, and investments were linked to the company’s ability to repay the loans.

He said the cross-border rail administration was governed by business agreements and rates schedules to regulate the way countries did business with each other.

“It is known that the Maputo corridor that links South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique is the most successful among the Southern African Development Community countries, and that it represents the best example of seamless corridor operation,” said Links.

Transnet and railway administrators in neighbouring countries want to replicate the successful operations of the South Africa and Mozambique rail link within Africa.

Links said Transnet was not going to be left behind during the fourth industrial revolution.
The changes related to this include digitisation and new ways of moving people around, through Uber, for example.

“We are discussing the railway track gauges, the load it can take, the technologies to be applied in moving trains, and the kind of skills we need to align with the revolution through things such as Google and similar interventions that railways cannot be immune to,” he said.

The World Economic Forum’s head of the Centre for Global Industries, Cheryl Martin, said the rail industry remained critical to the flow of people and goods in a safe, secure and efficient way.

Fourth industrial revolution technologies and thinking could enable railways to become more efficient and link countries and markets in a way that would help people and the environment, she said.

“The fourth industrial revolution will be successful if we actually marry our technology with human-centred thinking and make sure benefits accrue fairly, and deal with all the unintended consequences and all the externalities. How do we think about implementing technologies with good environmental benefits; with good benefits to humanity?

“That’s really some of the value we have to embed in our technology development to make the fourth industrial revolution successful,” Martin said.

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