Transnet Freight Rail (TFR), the state-owned logistics group, has set aside more than R68-billion to improve its infrastructure over the next three years, including increasing the number of its locomotives from 25 to 65.
Speaking at the launch of its scheduled train system, TFR chief executive Siyabonga Gama said the organisation will replace some of the old locomotives with the new ones.
Since 1994, Gama said, there has been no commitment at all to invest in rail infrastructure.
“We should have been investing on infrastructure after 1994. It [the investment in rail] started only 12 years later. All we did was to replace existing infrastructure.
“We have old locomotives. We need new ones,” said Gama.
TRF spokesperson Sandile Simelane, who told the Mail & Guardian this week about the amount to be spent on infrastructure, said: “We are upgrading some of our locomotives to have more pulling power because the budget is also used for other efficiencies.
“Buying locomotives is not like buying cupcakes — the train has to be built with certain specifications, so it’s a three to four-year process and we have already started the process,” said Simelane.
As part of its plan to improve efficiency, TFR will develop an operating schedule for freight trains and improve networks and signalling to meet the rapidly increasing demand for railway freight.
“We are excited to introduce this new operating approach,” said Gama.
Although it is still early days, the parastatal anticipates huge gains in efficiency and productivity and a better service for customers.
“Our job, however, is not done and we are continually looking for new ways to improve our service offering, which is crucial to our success in the future,” Gama said.
The introduction of a fixed schedule on the TRF network is intended to minimise delays and to move trains as safely and quickly as possible. The schedule details the routes and arrival and departure times.
The company has a 20 247 kilometres rail network, of which about 1 500 kilometres are heavy haul lines. The network connects the ports and hinterland of South Africa, as well as to the rail networks of the sub-Saharan region.
TFR infrastructure represents about 80% of Africa’s total and the company runs between 750 and 1 025 trains a day nationally.
Previously, the company relied on a tonnage-based dispatching system and trains ran only when enough freight had been accumulated.
“This approach tried to minimise the total number of trains needed, maximising their size. It also yielded inconsistent transit times, making delivery service less reliable at a time when our customers need better service to compete in their own markets,” said Gama.
The scheduling system will reduce the backlog in the delivery of goods in and outside the country, he said.
“This is a symbol of commitment to depart trains on time. The new system is important for planning purposes. Planning tells us what to do and at what time. Our activities in rail would be measured on this plan. If we really need to grow the economy, we need to shift from road to rail. The intention is not to compete with road freight transport but to improve South Africa’s global market competitiveness.
“For us to succeed, we need scheduled railway. This will assist us to deliver more tonnes on time. Cheaper rail will make our economy grow and, in that way, we will be able to create more jobs,” said Gama.
The fixed schedule railway system will rely heavily on cargo handling, terminals and customers loading and off-loading according to agreed times. The company will roll out fixed schedules on its network in phases and the process is expected to be complete by mid-2012.