SA freight rail sector requires R50 billion investment

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) will need in excess of R50 billion investment in the next five years to improve capacity and the freight rail performance.

In recent years, Transnet has experienced challenges characterised by the condition of the network, security issues, including cable theft and infrastructure vandalism, as well as the unavailability and reliability of the locomotives.

Addressing a webinar on the state of freight and rail in South Africa, TFR Acting General Manager: Rail Network and Projects, Bessie Mabunda, said the entity requires a combination of funding to deal with the network backlog and to continually maintain the network at the desired standard.

In addition, Mabunda said a level of capital funding will be required to sustain the network at full capacity.

Transnet’s primary business is to provide rail transport of commodities for the export, regional and domestic markets.

“The National Rail Policy, approved by Cabinet on 23 March 2022, provides an opportunity for funding through full network reflective tariff, as well as  government support and public participation. From a network restoration point of view, we have identified that some of the corridors have a high requirement due to years of underfunding.

“There are certain lines that require more intensive maintenance due to the age of the line, the design topography and the impacts of weather. Certain lines are also more prone to theft and vandalism, especially our electrifying lines and our fully signaled areas, which have been under siege in the last couple of years,” Mabunda said on Thursday.

From a 'sustaining capex' point of view, Mabunda said the biggest concern is that most of the train authorisation systems are actually at the end of life and must be replaced.

“New technology is being considered, which will be less prone to theft. With regards to the telecom system, our requirements are mostly driven by the legal compliance to Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and similar regulations,” Mabunda said.

In an effort to address the security challenges, the entity will implement the outcomes based security (OBS), which relies on boots on the ground and vehicles guarding the network.

“The OBS places the responsibility of protecting the network on the service providers, who implement a combination of various security measures, including physical guarding, intelligence as well as technology such as drones, CCTVs and smart fencing.

“Over and above what the OBS providers are doing, the TFR security has put in place strategies that are meant to curb the scourge of security incidents. These include replacing copper cables with copper magnesium that has no resale value and therefore will deter criminal in terms of stealing cables,” she said.

The entity is also piloting a system on some of the lines, which will allow it to pick up intrusions close to the rail network before the criminals cut the cables.

In addition, Transnet is employing other measures such as target hardening for substations and target hardening to protect the signaling equipment.

With Transnet’s peace officer status, internal security has powers to make arrests.

“We have been carrying out specialised operations at hotspot areas; we have been focusing on illicit markets in conjunction with law enforcement agencies. There has been a national logistics committee that has been established and one of the work streams focuses on an integrated approach to fighting crime with support from law enforcement agencies.

“We are also creating capability to ensure effective identification and investigation of organised crime groupings and follow up on any suspected internal involvement. It is important that when arrests are made that we are able to connect these individuals to other crimes that could have taken place in the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, Eskom and City Power networks, so that we have stronger cases and improve our chances of getting a successful conviction,” she said.

As pertaining to the rolling stock, Transnet has enlisted the assistance of various original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for their fleet.

“The original equipment manufacturers of stock are critical to the supply of spare parts, especially parts and systems that have inherent intellectual property linked to it. We have concluded and awarded one of the contracts, it supports our diesel fleet. There are three contracts that we do need to award. The second contract is at final approval stage and the last contract is in technical evaluation,” Mabunda said.

She said returning the long standing locomotives into service is only part of the solution, as there is a further requirement for continued sustainability of the fleet to ensure reliability and availability.

“This we can only do through long-term agreements with the respective OEMs in the form of Material and Reliability Support Agreement (MRSA), where the OEMs provide, amongst others, the necessary parts, technical support as well as guidance.

“The MRSA is in the final approval stage and the second contract is in the negation phase. All of these initiatives are expected to be in place within the next few months, with the benefits being realised as early as the next financial year,” Mabunda said.

Transnet is also hard at work improving the status of the fleet by performing certain modifications through Transnet engineering, which has already seen a number of locomotives being returned to service using alternative compressors.

“We have a large order of compressors that will assist us in the interim to return some of the long-standing locomotives. We are also focusing on digital transformation.

“This is to transform the business by implementing integrated technologies and systems across the value chain including train planning, yard operations – that will allow us track and trace rolling stock, unlock value and drive efficiencies and position us for the railway of the future,” she said. –