Reducing environmental impacts of transport

9th April 2010

Developing and investing in South Africa’s rail 
industry will reduce the environmental impact of transport, in certain instances, and also reduce the wear on roads as a result of transporting heavier commodities over long distances, says PD Naidoo & Associates rail division director Chris Campbell.

Developing rail capacity could be cheaper than maintaining and repairing roads damaged by heavy freight, he explains.

Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin, quoted in Sapa, reflects on the slow destruction of South Africa’s roads network by heavily laden trucks. He said: “A key problem on our roads is the massive migration of freight, very heavy freight, onto the road system, that is, freight that should be on the rail system. Because we have really got to improve, very significantly, the Transnet Freight Rail system, we need to get much more freight back onto rail. It is the main cause of damage to our road systems,” he said.

Engineering News previously 
reported that about 80% of companies, which took part in this year’s Barloworld Logistics ‘Supply Chain Foresight’ survey, moved less than 10% of their goods by rail. If adequate rail capacity were available, 46% of companies indicated that they would move more than 20% of their goods by rail.

Just under 50% of respondents felt that the rail capacity and service levels available to them were inadequate.

Barloworld Logistics marketing GM Kate Stubbs said that Transnet certainly had a multi-
billion-rand investment plan, “but that no one was seeing a huge step change” in rail infrastructure and operations.

Campbell believes that the speed of the service and ease of use can be improved if rail is sufficiently integrated into transport systems. Developments in 
systems that can feed loads into a train quickly reduce delays and push for greater integration that can make rail more attractive to companies.

The survey also pointed to most of the 377 respondents, of which 16% were MDs or CEOs, and 13% GMs, strongly agreeing to an urgent need for public–
private cooperation in the freight rail sector at a strategic and decision-making level, and indicated that private-sector direct investment was needed in this sector.

Regular freights being hauled by road can be transported more efficiently by rail. However, rail cannot deliver to companies’ premises, so there will always be a need for trucks to transport goods from the station to the client.

Road-trailers, which can be drawn by road vehicles to a rail siding and then connected to a train have been considered, but have not gained widespread use in South Africa, Campbell says.

Clients are mostly concerned with the cost, convenience and reliability of a service. 
This means that road and rail transport companies compete with each other.
However, the cost of repairs to 
road infrastructure is a further strain on State funds, which could otherwise be used for housing or other much-needed 
programmes. 
Globally, rail operators need subsidies from government to stay lucrative, but the impact of rail, though difficult to quantify, can lead to improved efficiencies, he explains.

The cost of maintaining and repairing roads used by road freight companies must be the responsibility of the State. Rail is more efficient in certain applications than road transport and this should be promoted further so that the country can mitigate the damage to secondary roads. The Road Freight Association and its more responsible members should be instrumental in assisting government in controlling the behaviour of those members who have little regard for the damage and subsequent cost of overloading, he says.

Also, Mining Weekly previously reported that three of the country’s main coal-exporting ports were rail constrained. Wood Mackenzie senior coal 
analyst Xavier Prevost said that inadequate rail capacity was not only limiting exports to below port capacity at the Richards Bay Coal Terminal, but also at the ports of Maputo and Durban.

He said that rail was not able to accommodate the volume of coal that the mining industry wanted to export. 
It seems that Transnet would have more business knocking on its door were it able to provide more capacity for industry.

Rail presents a number of 
opportunities to improve efficiencies in transport locally and can have a significant impact on the development of integrated transport systems in South Africa, not only in the freight arena but also in the area of passenger transport, and needs to be further investigated and promoted, Campbell concludes.