Freight association calls for urgent reform at TFR

8th February 2023

By: Tasneem Bulbulia

Senior Contributing Editor Online


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National association the South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF) has averred that South Africa needs a practical, sustainable and functional public–private partnership to overcome “chaos” at Transnet Freight Rail (TFR).

In his State of the Nation Address last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that Transnet would start the process of providing third-party access to its freight rail network from April 2022 by making slots available on the container corridor between Durban and City Deep in Gauteng.

The SAAFF says that, to date, the private sector has not seen any reform to provide third-party access to private operators across the national rail network.

The organisation says the President further said that Transnet has developed partnerships with the private sector to address cable theft and vandalism on the freight rail network through advanced technologies and additional security personnel and that the collaborative effort was already showing results in reduced disruptions to rail operations.

However, according to the SAAFF, the opposite has been true.

“Although the deterioration of rail freight has been a reality for some time now, the astonishing acceleration of disruptive occurrences due to crime and malfunctioning equipment and stripped infrastructure in recent months has been nothing short of a disaster,” it says.

The SAAFF references a recent edition of a weekly Business Unity South Africa/SAAFF Cargo Movement Update which covered this situation, with this indicating that TFR has been handling reduced volumes, down by as much as 80% since 2010.

“This operational deficiency, along with the utter destruction of infrastructure and criminality (143 incidents a month), has crippled a core artery in our trading network,” the SAAFF posits.

It notes, however, that the request for qualification issued by TFR to the market last week provides some optimism that rail can return to handling volumes of previous times, when it was productive, offering a reliable level of service.

The SAAFF says the association, on behalf of the logistics sector and in unison with private sector bodies, has continually called for decisive, drastic corrective action; noting that the country needs a strong, competent, and independent regulator working across a multimodal model.

“Failing to position an independent regulator runs a high-probability risk of the cargo rail system going from a public monopoly to a private monopoly – a position of exposure that the SAAFF strongly opposes.

“The public and private sectors must collectively deliver a solution and do this with the utmost urgency,” the SAAFF emphasises.

“Ultimately, we cannot emphasise enough the need for a functioning rail system. It is critical to understand the opportunity cost if we fail to cement reform with a sustainable, well-planned and properly implemented strategy.

“South Africa’s freight demand is exceedingly high, which requires a multi-modal approach. In addition, the increasing rate of damage to road networks can be directly attributed to the lamentable performance of the rail system. We need strong leadership and a change in direction in our State-owned entities, notably Transnet,” the association adds. 

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online



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