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Future looks promising for grain on rail

May 2013



The grain industry is one of the areas central to the evolution of the South African economy and within the general freight business at Transnet Freight Rail (TFR). It is for this reason that the development of this industry is fundamental to the growth projected by Transnet in the market demand strategy (MDS), a seven year business plan which began in March 2012. The plan will see TFR growing their tonnage delivery from 201 million to 350 million tons at its conclusion.

TFR is looking to deliver a more efficient and reliable service to all its customers through its different business units. Agriculture and Bulk Liquids (ABL) has a specific focus on customers from the grain sector set to consolidate its efforts of providing a world class service offering through infrastructure projects that have been planned in alignment with the market demand strategy. This will greatly contribute to the organisation playing a larger role in the movement of grain in South Africa.

The R201 billion investment is addressing issues that previously had an ill effect on service offerings within the railway sector. As a direct result of this investment, TFR has been afforded the opportunity to upgrade infrastructure of the current network, purchase new locomotives and rolling stock, with the intent to create capacity before demand.

“As ABL, we are looking to double the agricultural tonnages moved by rail over the next seven years and these infrastructure projects will have a positive effect on the grain industry, especially an improvement on the turnaround times of the wagons,” said Mr Stian Veldman, senior account executive at ABL.

According to Veldman, another initiative that will have a positive impact on the grain industry is the re-opening of the branch line networks which are favourable for areas which have a high concentration of agricultural activities. This is because of their silo capacities, their proximity to mills and their ability to link to core networks and markets. Once the branch line networks become fully operational, they will become important feeders into the broader TFR business.

With the re-opening of the Orkney/Vierfontein branch line, the whole of the Klerksdorp area has become more accessible for future exports of maize. Throughput times of wagons are set to decrease as a result of making use of these rail connections and the shorter route will result in a more effective solution.

Since the beginning of May last year, TFR has been involved in a maize deep sea export project with the grain industry through the port of Durban. This project lost some steam during the December 2012 to February 2013 period, but is at present running at full capacity again. The main sourcing areas remains Kroonstad and Bethlehem and the destination is the deep sea export facilities of South African Bulk Terminals (SABT), as well as Agriport (TPT), in Durban. The majority of the grain will be exported to Mexico and the east.

“Our continued participation in this project is dependent on the surplus of maize in the country, an international demand for our maize as well as enabling “economics” (prices, etc.). TFR will have the resources to transport a substantial portion of these exports,” explained Veldman.

In working closely with other stakeholders, like TPT and SABT, the organisation has played a crucial role in furthering the objectives of the grain sector, particularly with regards to growth. The prior knowledge of export slots being allocated to grain handlers makes the planning process easier for TFR as this enables us to be efficient, supply good customer service and be reliable.

“The export programme is running quite well, but improvements can be made on available slots and turnaround times of wagons, which will allow TFR to transport a larger share of the available tonnages,” concluded Veldman.

Collaborative efforts such as these paint a very promising scenario for all the parties involved.

Publication: May 2013

Section: Other Articles