South Africa is rebuilding its rail transport system to make it the backbone of the whole transport system. In order to meet the objectives of significantly increasing rail transport market share, the Department of Transport has recently announced the elaboration of a national rail strategy which encourages the allocation of investments in new projects and underlines the importance of the private sector, as well as the necessity of the government’s financial contribution. The document, which also considers the strategies elaborated by companies in this sector, stipulates the development of rail infrastructure and freight and passenger transport services.
In South Africa, rail transport is one of the essential elements of the transport system and its development depends on modernisation and construction of infrastructure to provide the best possible freight and passenger services.
The national rail freight transport network is owned and managed by Transnet and operated by its division, Transnet Freight Rail (TFR). In the metropolitan areas of Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, the network is owned by Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), while its management and operation are in the responsibility of Metrorail, a division of PRASA.
In the freight transport sector, mining plays an important part in the traffic of heavy and very heavy goods shipped to ports for export. Because of the drop of the market share compared to road transport, the authorities are implementing infrastructure projects to provide optimum connections to the main regional and national distribution points where ports become vital hubs.
As regards rail passenger transport services, commuter transport is the most important component with Gautrain as regional services operator. Over the past years, the company has launched projects for the extension of the network and rolling stock procurement. In March, the authorities announced the completion of the feasibility study for the extension of the network through five rail connections to different regions, including to airports.
For railway development, South Africa’s Department of Transport proposed a railway strategy that would be adopted as legislation for 2018-2019. It is the first national railway strategy in the past 150 years and identifies the political directions and vital projects that would have a massive contribution to the development of the railway system.
The document has been a consequence of difficulties in the system, as rail transport doesn’t manage to be competitive compared to other transport modes and loses ground in the market at all levels.
“Efficient rail policies will result in investments, an increase in the rail transport share and in the country’s commercial and economic activity. As the costs of logistics services in South Africa are high, the increase of rail transport performance will have a rapid positive impact on the transport system and on the economy”, Jan-David de Villiers, Chief Director at Department of Transport Manager, said.
The main rail routes and branches of the existing rail network were completed in 1910 and since then, only 10% have been upgraded. The underfinancing of the rail network is reflected in the value of assets and of the infrastructure: road transport financing amounts to R2,284 trillion (USD 179 billion), while railway financing to just R229 billion (USD 18 billion). Moreover, South Africa’s rail industry faces new challenges generated by innovation which is more rapidly implemented in the road sector, such as the introduction of new lorries whose latest technologies promise to reduce transport costs by around 50%. “This will significantly affect the railway sector. If this sector experiences an increase in performance and efficiency, costs will be reduced and the market share will grow”, said David de Villiers.
The White Paper stipulates the allocation of massive investments especially in the development of railway high-speed transport and heavy intermodal transport, but also for commuter, regional and urban rail transport. Also, the participation of the private sector in infrastructure and rolling stock projects is one of the main sources of investments. >
“The document brings forth a balance of investments between transport modes and placing rail transport as the backbone of the entire transport system”, said the chief director of the Department
Transnet boosts rail investment
South Africa’s rail infrastructure has mostly Cape-gauge railways (1067mm – 92,7% of the network), but also narrow-gauge railways (610 mm – on isolated railways, representing 7% of the network). Standard-gauge railways represent only 0,3% of the network (the network owned by Gautrain, 80 km). As compared to standard-gauge railways, narrow-gauge railways have a low competitiveness level and reduced capacity.
According to the national transport Master Plan 2050, because of factors related to interoperability on the existing network, massive investments necessary for infrastructure works and rolling stock procurement (for Transnet Freight Rail and PRASA), the total transformation of main Cape-gauge railways to standard-gauge railways is not financially viable. In order to encourage infrastructure projects, the new strategy announced by the authorities proposes political interventions for the implementation of highly performant standard-gauge network. Since Transnet cannot support the necessary level of investments, additional financial resources will be required from both the government and the private sector, says the chief director at the Department of Transport. According to the document, private financial resources focus mainly on the segment of heavy goods transport and rolling stock. Since the launch of the Market Demand Strategy, in 2012, Transnet has invested USD 9.7 billion in the modernisation of the transport and logistic infrastructure, with USD 2 billion allocated to these projects in 2016.
An infrastructure project that has been recently completed is the extension of Richards Bay coal transport railway. The first phase has been completed and included the extension of the railway between Waterberg (in Limpopo) and Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, allowing the uninterrupted traffic of 100-car trains. The railway capacity between Lephalale (Limpopo Province) and Richards Bay terminal increased from 400,000 tonnes to 2 million tonnes a year. Phase two includes the construction of a 2.8 km loop in Thabazimbi, the construction of a 5 km railway to provide connection to other loops (creating the double railway).
The finalisation of these projects will enable the increase of the number of daily trains from a 200-car train to three 200-car trains per day.
Apart from the infrastructure projects, Transnet is undergoing digitalisation programmes. Together with GE Transportation, the company joined a system implementation agreement concerning the non-interrupted connection of maritime transport operators with railway and logistics operators. The solution supplied by GE includes the optimisation and digitalisation of payment, customs and inspection procedures and form a solution of demands for freight transport, based on the customers’ “on-demand” models.
One of the important projects of South Africa is the rolling stock procurement project that stipulates the procurement of 1,064 locomotives, with contracts signed two years ago. Transnet signed two contracts: one contract for the delivery of 599 electric locomotives was signed with CSR Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive (359) and Bombardier Transportation South Africa (240), and the second contract for 465 diesel locomotives was signed with General Electric South Africa Technologies (233) and CNR Rolling Stock South Africa (232). By January 2017, GE and CSR delivered 182 vehicles, but Bombardier and CNR have not delivered their vehicles yet. Specifically for the project, in 2016, Bombardier opened a facility in Isando, Johannesburg.
As regards passenger transport, the White Paper includes policies and projects to place railway transport as the backbone of mobility. The document stipulates that the financial and political support has to be granted to transit and regional transport system on long-distance and high-speed railways.
Thus, urban rail transport has to become the main transport mode to benefit from new lines and corridors and the financing sources of projects have to come mainly from the National treasury. ”Urban rail transport planning will be under the responsibility of the transport authorities in provinces and cities combined with the central units at the Department of Transport”, said De Villiers.
For the development of regional transport infrastructure, Gautrain Management Agency, the manager of standard-gauge railways (in Gauteng region) has completed the feasibility study for the extension of a 200 km network to different areas from Gauteng, such as Soweto (Johannesburg metropolitan region) and Mamelodi (near Pretoria).
Also, for the Gautrain network, the tender for the procurement of 12 electric multiple-units is underway, the process being in the bidder selection phase as the province government selected the short list of three bidders.
PRASA, the national passenger transport operator, is developing projects aimed to boost services. Last year, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) and the operator signed the contract for the development of Moloto standard-gauge corridor construction that will link Gauteng to Mpumalanga (east of South Africa). The project consists of the construction of a 125 km double railway with 13 new stations.
At the end of 2016, PRASA announced it would carry out three tests before launching commercial services on the railway and it would continue the construction of new stations and the modernisation of the existing stations and sections. Gibela, the JV including Alstom, Ubumbano Rail and New Africa Rail got the Provisional Acceptance Certificate from PRASA for the first X’Trapolis train. Gibela builds 850 trains (3,480 cars), the first 20 being manufactured by Alstom in its facility from Lapa, Brazil. 14 trains have already been delivered.
According to the development plan, PRASA plans to procure 600 more trains on the long term, project for which Transnet has already announced plans to implement research and development projects to build commuter trains and to participate to the tenders launched by the operator. PRASA’s strategy sets as priority the development of the network and the procurement of rolling stock.