State-owned rail company Transnet would reach its goal of expanding the capacity of the Richards Bay corridor to 81-million tons a year in 2016, said Transnet GM commercial Divyesh Kalan at the second yearly Coal Transportation Africa Summit, which took place in Johannesburg in May.
He noted that the expansion project, which was one of seven coal- related projects on Transnet’s books, was the largest ever undertaken by the rail operator. Kalan added that Transnet would also be in a position to sustain the new capacity of the corridor to the Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) once the project was completed.
The predicted “benefits and efficiencies”, comprising about R37-billion of expansion and sustainability projects, would soon come to fruition, he said, also highlighting yard upgrade projects in areas such as Blackhill, Saaiwater and Vryheid, as well as new substation builds and existing substation upgrades, as particular project successes.
While Transnet was close to meeting its ambitious 81-million- ton-a-year capacity upgrade, Kalan pointed out that the State-owned entity would be in a position to increase haul tonnages even further, should market demand warrant it.
He stated that the inclusion of the Overvaal tunnel expansion project, which would result in the development of a second line within 20 m of the 4kmlong railway line near Ermelo, in Mpumalanga, offered additional capacity of ten-million tons a year – a “theoretical 91-million-ton” capacity for the Richards Bay corridor.
The reason for the Overvaal tunnel project not being included in the initial expansion project scope was Transnet’s initial consideration that the additional ten-million tons were uneconomical. However, the project has since been given the green light to ensure the sustainability of the Richards Bay corridor and limit bottlenecks in the system.
Further, to boost South Africa’s coal-shunting capacity, Transnet will continue to roll out its Waterberg project, which aims to upgrade existing infrastructure and develop new rail infrastructure that will traverse from Lephalale, in Limpopo, to Ermelo, and connecting onto the coal line and the RBCT.
He noted that Transnet was at Stage 2 of its front-end-loading (FEL) 2 study, which would “unlock 6.3-million tons” of rail capacity, either by the end of next year or the beginning of 2017. The FEL 2 study involved the extension of the Matla loop, in Mpumalanga, and doubling the Waterberg line to cater for three locomotives shunting 100 wagons at three different locations. FEL 2 also involved the construction of a yard at Lephalale to power 100 W trains.
Once completed, the project will increase rail capacity by 24-million tons a year. However, Kalan pointed out that the success of the Waterberg project largely depended on local coal miners’ offtake agreements with State-owned power utility Eskom.
He also noted that the rail operator was in the prefeasibility development stage of Transnet’s new “operating philosophy”, which aimed to improve operating efficiencies while reducing operating costs along the coal line.
The FEL 2 prefeasibility study will analyse the entire coal line rail network, including rolling stock and any relevant systems. Kalan noted that the possible outcomes of the project would be to eliminate train dwell time at yards by increasing the number of wagons being shunted from 100 to 200. He added that this would require larger trains, which had shown promising results during testing.
Kalan said one of the most significant challenges of the project was upskilling and licensing train drivers to operate the larger trains.Meanwhile,
Transnet’s Swaziland Rail Link (SwaziLink) project, which would result in the development of an alternative route to Richards Bay through Swaziland, was also highlighted at the summit.
Kalan explained that, once SwaziLink was operational, significant capacity would be freed up for heavy-haul bulk coal traffic to the RBCT, as the new line would divert large quantities of general freight traffic from the coal line. The business case for the project received approval in April this year.
He also mentioned that RBT Grindrod’s Navitrade terminal, in Richards Bay, would further increase capacity on the coal line. RBT Grindrod is a joint venture between investment group RBT Resources and freight logistics and shipping services provider Grindrod.
The Navitrade project involved the upgrade of Transnet’s Bhizolo yard, in Richards Bay, which would result in improved traffic to the terminal, as well as increased capacity at Navitrade to four-million tons a year by November, Kalan explained.
He added that the aim was to progressively increase the terminal’s capacity to between ten-million tons a year and 20-million tons a year, depending on demand.
Further, Kalan mentioned that the Maputo/Limpopo coal and magnetite line programme entailed the improvement of operational efficiencies by reducing train operations in yards.
He added that it was likely that coal delivered inland from South Africa to Maputo, in Mozambique, would likely be diverted to Richards Bay, as the Port of Maputo would probably become a more magnetite-focused destination, though it would be flexible in terms of receiving other commodities, should demand warrant it.