JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The feasibility study for a coal rail link between Botswana and South Africa was under way and would be completed by the end of the current financial year, State-owned Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) executive manager of planning, Deidre Strydom, said on Friday.
Addressing delegates at the Coaltrans South Africa conference, in Johannesburg, she said the link would form part of the heavy-haul expansion in Limpopo’s Waterberg coalfields to bring coal from Botswana for export.
The heavy-haul line would have a capacity of 80-million tons a year when completed.
“Currently there is no rail infrastructure that crosses from Lephalale into Botswana, the idea is to build the link near the Stockpoort border post to link to Mahalapye or further south to link to Mmamabula,” Strydom said.
The line would run from the southern end of the Waterberg reserve to the northern side of the Botswana-run network to open the Mmamabula coalfields, and possibly the reserves located across the Zimbabwean border.
Strydom added that TFR had engaged with Botswana Rail to discuss the rail link and was currently actively marketing the project.
The coalfields in Botswana were among many drivers for the expansion of rail capacity in the Waterberg.
Global expansion in the seaborne thermal coal market, diminishing coal reserves in the Witbank region and new power stations in the Waterberg contributed to the urgency of solving logistical challenges in the area.
Strydom said TFR had a two-tiered approach to developing rail in the Waterberg, which included minor expansion options through enhancement of the existing route and infrastructure, as well as major expansion options that would result in the doubling of the current route, infrastructure upgrades and new heavy-haul routes.
The new Waterberg rail lines would run over 560 km and would include a new single line between Thabazimbi and Ermelo.
TFR planned to add 23-million tons a year to the capacity of the line running from Lephalale to Ermelo by 2020.
A new single bidirectional line would also be constructed between Lephalale and Ermelo from 2026 onwards. It would have a capacity of 112-million tons a year.
Strydom said that about R200-billion of Transnet’s R300-billion, seven-year rolling capital investment programme would be invested in rail, a good portion of which would be directed towards commodity export corridors. It would be spent on freight rail projects and included capital for the Waterberg rail expansion.
She added that, in addition to TFR’s plan to increase its coal rail line throughput to 81-million tons a year by 2014, it was also planning further investments to ramp up coal supply to State-owned power utility Eskom to 32-million tons a year, excluding the Tutuka and Camden power stations.