South Africa works to move cargo from road to rail

South Africa works to move cargo from road to rail

Offloading and Loading of containers at the City Deep Inland Container Terminal in Johannesburg.

Transnet National Ports Authority is leading attempts to win road traffic back onto rail in South Africa, a shift it would stand to gain from the most.

TNPA has plenty of work yet ahead. Including containers but not liquid bulk, 70 percent of cargo travels by road between Durban, the country’s main port, and Gauteng, the industrial heartland of South Africa.

Transnet late in November completed a revamp of City Deep Container Terminal outside Johannesburg, which had been viewed as a place “where containers go to die,” but now holds the key to the road-to-rail drive.

An upgrade costing 800 million South African rand ($55 million) demonstrates that Transnet expects results in its RTR push. City Deep caters mainly to rail container traffic from ports in Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth. City Deep handles about 60 percent of Gauteng’s box traffic and claims to be South Africa’s biggest inland port and the fifth-biggest in the world.

Siyabonga Gama, Transnet’s acting chief executive, in the same week, announced loans totalling 12 billion rand had been negotiated to fund Transnet’s long-term scheme to introduce new infrastructure and equipment enabling RTR.

Transnet Freight Rail has ordered more than 1,000 electric and diesel-electric locomotives, mainly for the box trade and trains transporting coal and manganese. These commodities are currently trucked extensively — in particular, a higher proportion of coal than Transnet cares to admit.

Gama said Transnet must market itself more aggressively and reduce its dependence on minerals and mining. This means gaining more traffic from the fast-moving consumer goods and manufacturing sectors.

Freight moving inland to the neighboring countries, however, continues to be dominated by road, a situation that looks unlikely to change in the near future.

Sector leaders expect little to change until talk about the seamless one-stop border crossings turns to action, with the resolution of delays at border crossing and the clearing of bureaucratic snarls in neighboring countries.

A version of this story originally appeared on IHS Maritime Fairplay, a sister product of within IHS.

Contact Terry Hutson at