South Africa’s Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) is preparing to materially increase the number of weekly trains operating on that component of its North East Corridor that transports export commodities through Mozambique’s Maputo port.
Once commercial agreements for a so-called ‘borderless’ train service have been finalised with Caminhos de Ferro de Moçambique (CFM), TFR expects to increase the number of weekly trains carrying chrome from 12 to 21, and those carrying magnetite from 17 to 28.
The two rail operators signed an in-principle agreement in February to enable the uninterrupted passage of freight trains between the two countries, following joint pilots of the run-through model over a period of more than nine months.
“Through this pilot phase, the two rail operator companies clearly demonstrated that the run-through model was a more efficient operating proposition, with great potential to make rail a more competitive option on this channel,” TFR chief commercial officer Bonginkosi Mabaso tells Engineering News.
The North East Corridor, which also includes a service to Richards Bay, has hitherto involved pre-inspection events at multiple points on the network to Maputo, while crew and traction changes (from electric to diesel and vice versa) have also resulted in significant delays and extended turnaround times.
“This will significantly reduce transit and cycle times,” Mabaso says, while refraining to offer specific volume and cost guidance.
He reports that no final date is available for the start of the service “as commercial agreements are under discussion currently”.
The corridor’s performance has also been affected by a limited availability of locomotives, owing to the absence of maintenance contracts with suppliers and a protracted impasse over the supply of spares for locomotives supplied by CRRC of China.
However, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan will travel to China in April in an effort to “fast-track the delivery of locomotives and spare parts by Chinese State-owned CRRC e-Loco Supply to Transnet”.
If Gordhan fails, TFR will need to find an alternate source of spares supply for the CRRC locomotives.
Under such a process, which will involve another original-equipment manufacturer stepping in to provide spares and maintenance, it is expected that it will take about 24 months before the first CRRC locomotive can be reinstated.