Rail plans will change Waterberg forever

A heavy haul railway line will irrevocably change the Waterberg in to a hive of mining activity. This is the opinion of an international rail logistics expert who spoke to Northen News this week. According to him a ‘rail renaissance’ is eminent due to the ever increasing amount of road traffic and the possible implementation of Carbon tax.

An environmental impact report issued by Eskom recently, estimates that 50% of SA’s remaining coal resources can be found in the Waterberg. Up to 60 million tons of coal per year may need to be railed from this coal-rich area within the next 25 years to keep power stations in Mpumalanga running, as reserves there have been depleted.

Transnet agrees and Mike Asefovitz, Transnet spokesperson told Northern News on Tuesday that the next volley of investment for coal exports will be in the Waterberg. “This is the region where the future coal reserves of South Africa are concentrated, a shift away from the Mpumalanga region. Therefore rail solutions and investments will have to be made to unlock resources and to sustain the export initiatives in the medium to longer term. Studies are already underway in this regard and once concluded, Transnet Freight Rail will make a detailed announcement.”

Transnet is spending R110 billion over the next five years on upgrading and expanding its services nationwide.

It seems that there are several options in establishing a heavy-haul railway line to and from Lephalale.

The first is in conjunction with CIC energy who is building a rail line from Mahalalpye in Botswana to a port near Luderitz, South West Namibia. The current rail line that ends at Grootgeluk could be extended to the Stockpoort border post. From there it would continue to the station at Mahalapye in Botswana and on through the Kalahari, west to Luderitz even possibly Walvisbay. This will enable easy access to buyers in Europe and America.

Other options include a proposed line from the Matla Power Station near Volksrust to Ermelo, which could possibly be extended to the Waterberg.

The preferred option for Transnet according to senior project engineer, Makhosini Shongwe is a new heavy haul coal line from Lephalale to Richardsbay via Thabazimbi, Witbank and Ermelo. The new line would be able to carry up to 112 million tons per year. This option will however only materialize if doubling the existing rail lines does not meet with demand.

The current rail line is what you would call a branch line and this too could be upgraded to a heavy-haul rail line. It extends from Pretoria North through Brits, to Rustenburg, Thabazimbi and on to Lephalale. It serves coal, iron-ore and chrome mines in the area. This is one of only a few branch lines that are still in working condition. Currently over three million tons of coal is transported from Lephalale to various steelworks at Pretoria, Vanderbijlpark, Newcastle and Saldanha every year. Around 750 000 tons is exported out of South Africa.

The South African government has indicated its willingness to upgrade the current national rail system which Jeremy Cronin, Deputy Minister of Transport described as still lingering in the 1950’s. It plans to spend R30 million on upgrading existing rail lines and building new ones.

Last Thursday the Limpopo Department of Roads and Transport and Transnet Freight Rail signed a memorandum of understanding. Transnet unveiled its plans to conduct feasibility studies during 2011/2012 financial year into the viability of railway associated with mining and agriculture in the province.
The Limpopo MEC for Transport, Pinky Kekana said at the signing that transport can play a catalytic role in addressing poverty and developmental needs. She also lamented the deteriorating rail networks around the mining areas of amongst others, Lephalale as well as Mokopane’s platinum and chrome fields.  “We are clear in our strategic vision of playing our part in driving our province and country towards being a developed economy,” she said on Thursday. She also announced that the Department has started the process of establishing a freight databank, to highlight growth areas. LiN News/Northern News