Richards Bay Coal Terminal shows that growth and progress is possible on the back of improved operations.
While any country’s economic growth rests on the strength of its infrastructure, waiting for the necessary infrastructure to be developed is intuitively a counter-productive exercise.
Growth and progress can be fast-tracked through operational improvements to optimise the use of existing infrastructure, says Nosipho Damasane, chief executive officer at Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT), the largest single export coal terminal in the world.
Damasane says: “Countries that have succeeded have done exactly what we are trying to do in South Africa [through the national infrastructure development plan], so infrastructure is the backbone of any country’s development and this is a very important initiative.”
However, growth needs to continue while the plan is being enhanced and fine-tuned.
“RBCT has moved ahead regardless, and is achieving significant progress by making better use of existing infrastructure and driving efficiency,” she says.
“While we were waiting for the outcome of Transnet Freight Rail (TFR)’s five-year expansion plan, we began working together with TFR to improve efficiencies on the existing coal line, as well as to upgrade our own processes and improve the visibility of information in the corridor.”
Transnet has increased its capital expenditure programme from R110-billion to R300-billon to expand its capacity through investments in rail, ports and pipeline infrastructure, with a view to moving transport focus from road to rail.
One example of improved efficiencies is the fact that the coal terminal has improved the turnaround time of trains at the port from four to three hours.
“This 25% improvement in turnaround time in effect gives TFR 25% more capacity on the same infrastructure – so they are able to ‘sweat their assets’. This was made possible through improved alignment and cooperation with our partners, and good collaboration with unions,” she says.
“You see similar benefits from the Shongololo project, with longer trains coming from the mines. Again, you have not invested in additional infrastructure, but you have increased capacity.”
Through expansion and improved efficiencies, the coal terminal has steadily increased its own capacity from 12 million tons per annum when it opened in 1976, to 92-million tonnes per annum today.
The 276 hectare site has six berths and four ship loaders, with stockyard capacity of 8,2-million tonnes, and manages the shipping coordination of more than 700 ships every year.
However, coal is a resilient commodity, and all indications are that increased capacity will be needed, says Damasane. This anticipated growth has resulted in Transnet considering the development of a new, open access coal terminal at Richards Bay.
“In the discussion around new coal terminals to be built, we are still finding our feet on the question of the capacity that will be required at Richards Bay.
“We can grow to 110-million tonnes a year capacity on the same coal line, and create a multi-user facility. Looking at the coal market, it is difficult to predict whether capacity beyond 110-million tonne a year will be needed.
“But we believe that unless we want to grow our capacity to beyond 110-million tonnes, the quickest and most efficient way to expand our capacity is to do so by enhancing the existing infrastructure.”
A partner’s view
“The mining value chain comprises many complex elements: from the actual mining operations, to moving the mined product with specialised freight trains to the chosen port, to storage at the port before shipment to the eventual export destination. Enhancing value in the mining sector requires that all the supporting infrastructure is in place from pit to port. This enables the fundamental support required for the seamless operation of the value chain for the mining sector.” — De Buys Scott, partner for infrastructure and major projects at KPMG
This article forms part of a supplement paid for by KPMG. Contents and photographs were sourced through and signed off by KPMG