The freight corridor between Durban and Gauteng would benefit most from a standard gauge railway track being constructed next to the current narrow gauge track.
The addition of the line would aid in the transport of mainly double-stacked containers, as well as various other commodities.
Other options, such as replacing the narrow gauge track with a standard gauge track, or continuing with the current narrow gauge track as the only rail freight option would not produce the optimal long-term efficiency results for the corridor, says Christian Demmerez de Charmoy.
Continuing as is would be cheapest, for example, but the corridor would reach capacity, with freight then shifting increasingly to road, adding significantly to pollution along the corridor.
De Charmoy is a masters student at the University of Pretoria. He investigated the economic benefits, if any, of moving to standard gauge on the Durban corridor as part of his studies. He presented his findings at the Southern African Transport Conference, held this week in Pretoria.
South Africa opted for narrow gauge over standard gauge in 1881 to reduce construction costs, while the track also allowed for tighter curves. In theory, to construct a standard gauge railway line is 6% to 10% more expensive than narrow gauge, De Charmoy’s studies indicate.
Single narrow gauge track, for example, costs around R18.2-million per kilometre, while standard gauge track comes in at R20.7-million per kilometre.
Standard gauge, however, allows for higher axle loading, double stacking of containers, higher economies of scale, better economics, while it also has a significant research and development history behind it.
Locomotive costs are also higher for narrow gauge systems than standard gauge systems. Wagon costs are the same.
According to De Charmoy, South Africa, Japan and Australia are some of the few countries still operating on narrow gauge, with the rest of Africa increasingly moving to standard gauge.
Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria recently completed construction of standard gauge railway lines.
Only 8% of the world uses narrow gauge.
South Africa’s rail network is entirely narrow gauge – all 30 400 track kilometres – except for the Gautrain’s 80 km standard gauge network in Gauteng.
Recent policy development work by the South African government recommend that the domestic network shift to standard gauge.