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Jul 27, 2012

Rail utility hopeful of meeting 77Mt coal target despite slow start

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Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) is working to ‘catch up’ export coal volumes lost during the first few months of its current financial year, which included a nine-day shutdown, in an effort to meet its 2012/13 budget of hauling up to 77-million tons to the privately owned Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT), in KwaZulu-Natal.

The RBCT received coal at an annualised rate of 66.41-million tons during June, a decline from the annualised tempo of 71-million achieved during April, the first month of the State-owned rail utility’s financial year. TFR experienced three major derailments and two minor ones since its April shutdown, which had placed it on to the back foot.

But commercial manager Burtie Maree said last week that the performance had improved materially since the start of July and that it had achieved weekly tempos of up to 1.65-million tons – a rate that would yield more than 85-million tons if annualised.

Speaking during a media tour of the rapid rail load-out stations at the Phola coal processing plant, in Ogies, east of Johannesburg, Maree said the focus was on “catching up” volumes so as to meet an internal target of 77-million tons.

During its 2011/12 financial year, TFR moved 67.7-million tons, an 8.8% increase on the 62.2-million tons achieved in the prior year.

Similarly, the management team at Phola – a joint venture established by Anglo Inyosi Coal (AIC) and BHP Billiton Energy Coal South Africa (Becsa) in 2009, and operated by Minopex, to process material from AIC’s emerging Zibulo colliery and Becsa’s Klipspruit mine – was to ramp up to nameplate capacity.

Phola engineering manager Kox Gomba said the facility, which processed material from the two Mpumalanga mines on a three-day rotation, had recently breached the 500-hour-a-month operational level, which meant that the facility was closing in on its nameplate level of 567 hours a month. At such levels, the facility would be in a position to process nearly 16-million tons of coal yearly for the export and domestic thermal coal markets.

Barring operational problems or coal shortages, Maree said TFR had the infrastructure and the rolling stock in place to meet the 2012/13 budget. Plans were also advancing to ramp up that capacity of the corridor to 81-million tons “sustainably” by 2014.

The last of the 110 Class 19E loco- motives being procured from a Mitsui-led consortium should be operational by year-end, while an additional 860 jumbo wagons would be added to the existing fleet of 7 800 by March 31, 2013. In addition, TRF planned to increase its yearly domestic coal volumes by 305% between 2012 and 2019 from nearly 8-million tons to around 30-million tons.

The larger Transnet group was also considering plans to facilitate a further expansion of coal exports to 98-million tons by 2019 as part of its R300-billion market demand strategy.

Initiatives to unlock domestic and export coal resources from the Waterberg region of Limpopo province were central to this expansion.

It was planning a phased introduction, with the first phase likely to facilitate the movement of 23-million tons. The immediate priority, though, was to reduce congestion at the key Ermelo rail junction by diverting general freight through a Swaziland link.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
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