Transnet Freight Rail claims progress on restoring coal line to Richards Bay

Transnet Rail Engineering’s wagon maintenance facility at South Dunes in Richards Bay.Picture: File

Transnet Rail Engineering’s wagon maintenance facility at South Dunes in Richards Bay.Picture: File

Published Jan 18, 2024


THE repair of South Africa’s main coal export line was proceeding “extremely well” following a collision and derailment of two trains, a Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) spokesperson said yesterday,

Transnet has been working to clear the line to Richards Bay, South Africa’s major coal export port, from Mpumalanga, since the accident happened on Sunday.

The state-owned freight operator has not said what caused the derailment and was investigating, and there were no serious injuries or fatalities.

A spokesperson said such was the progress that they expected to recover the line to functionality “sooner rather than later”.

Road Freight Association CEO Gavin Relly said yesterday this event had underscored the vulnerability of the multi-ore line, due to the risks of outdated manual systems and poor operational control.

“The derailment will take some time to clear - at least a few days - which will have an effect on the pressure to send bulk ore by road,” said Relly.

He said there needed to be a full investigation into what damage was caused to the line and direct systems (eg, signalling and power supply), but more importantly, how such an occurrence could be prevented in future.

He said that for instance if load shedding had caused the collision, as some media had speculated, then sustainability of electricity supply to all sectors of the line needed to be secured.

DA MP Manny Gounden said there needed to be clear and transparent handling of the accident by TFR.

Richards Bay Coal Terminal is able to handle large vessels and load them at a rate of up to 12 000 tons per hour.

But this latest disruption has compounded what has become a national crisis, with many commentators labelling the issues at South Africa’s key logistics infrastructure almost as big a challenge to the economy as load shedding.

For instance, last year coal exports were disrupted for 22 days at Richards Bay port, and exports fell 14% to 50.4 million tons, the lowest export volume over 30 years, due to security issues, strikes, equipment shortages, and a train derailment, according to the Dry Cargo online publication.

The 2022/23 Annual State of Safety Report, which is produced by the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) and was released in October, reported on by Business Report, revealed that South African railways experienced 10 746 negative events in the past year, encompassing 1 833 safety-related operational occurrences and 8 643 security-related incidents.

This system includes railways used by TFR, Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa and the Gautrain Management Agency.

However, the Cabinet, in its last meeting for the year, considered and approved for publication the Freight Logistics Roadmap, as well as the Draft Rail Private Sector Participation Framework.

The Freight Logistics Roadmap outlined a clear path to address immediate challenges in the logistics system and also sought to reform the system in the long term.

Its immediate priority was to stabilise and improve the operational performance of the freight rail network, which has severely constrained exports.