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Freight Lines In Limpopo

Limpopo Rail

Inter-provincial / country arterial lines

(Connecting Limpopo with adjacent provinces and countries)

Railway lines in Limpopo are dissected by various provincial borders and as such, do not form end to end corridors within the provincial borders themselves.

Pretoria - Pienaarsrivier - Polokwane - Musina - Beit Bridge

This 579 km section of the former Northern Transvaal Mainline from Pretoria to Beit Bridge is part of the route which falls within the borders of the Limpopo from a point just south of Peinaarsrivier to the South African border at Beit Bridge in the north. This has for many years been a busy general freight route for both international and domestic traffic. The linking of it with two continuous rail routes within present-day Zimbabwe has made it even more important.

The line carried over 1.8 million tons of traffic during the 2011 review period (The railway administration financial year, 1 April 2010 to 31 March 2011) Of this, over 500 000 tons was transit traffic to and from countries in the north. 727 574 tons of traffic was forwarded from stations on the line and this included over 300 000 tons of coal from Musina (formerly Messina), about 71 000 tons of Fluospar from Pienaarsrivier and some 287 000 tons of lime products from Naboomspruit. Traffic received on the line included liquid petroleum products, cement, and various grains.

There are three branch lines which at one time fed and received traffic to the mainline along this route. All these branches are currently inoperative The Marble Hall branch generated limestone traffic destined to a major steel producer. The Vaalwater branch generated agricultural traffic and received building materials, animal feed and related products. The third branch, running to Zebediela generated lime and citrus traffic.

The 77 km section between Germiston, Pretoria and Pyramid South is electrified on the old 3 000 volt DC system (3 kV), while the section north to Polokwane is electrified at 25 000 volts AC (25 kV). The branch to Lephalale is also electrified at 25 000 volts AC (25kV) while the section from Phalaborwa to Hoedspruit and Kaapmuiden is on the 3 000 volt DC system.

The section between Pyramid South and Polokwane is controlled by a computer driven Radio Train-Order system. An average of 10 trains per day operate in each direction north from Pyramid South, ranging from 40 wagon vacuum-brake trains to longer air-brake trains. Some trains terminate at Polokwane, but the majority continue to Beit Bridge or are routed to the lowveld via Tzaneen. A large marshalling yard at Pyramid South is used for routing trains from the Beit Bridge and Lephalale (formerly Ellisras) lines over the freight bypass lines and, for the changeover from DC to AC electric locomotives.

Pyramid South - Brits - Rustenburg - Thabazimbi - Lephalale (Ellisras)

(In the north West Province and Limpopo)

This is an important "branch line," but with a main line standard. It serves the coal, iron ore and chrome mines in the North West and Limpopo provinces. The line feeds large volumes of bulk traffic into and through Gauteng. As such, carrying over 6.7 million tons of traffic, it is busier than many main lines in terms of actual tonnage carried. Beginning at Pyramid South in Gauteng, the line passes into the North-West Province at Tallardshoop (3 km east of De Wildt) and reaches Limpopo south of Northam, a distance of about 175 km from Pretoria North. The length of line in Limpopo itself is about 172 km but for the purpose of this study the entire line is considered to be part of the Limpopo system.

The line was originally opened to Rustenburg in 1906 and extended to Thabazimbi in 1934, after it was decided to exploit significant iron ore deposits in conjunction with the establishment of the iron and steel works at Pretoria. The line was extended 112 km to Lephalale (formerly Ellisras) to exploit coal resources in 1980 as a "Guaranteed Line" in which the iron and steel company undertook to guarantee the railway administration against operating losses.

At present, some 5 million tons of coal are transported from Lephalale to the various steel works at Pretoria, Vanderbijlpark, Newcastle (KZN) and Saldanha (WC) as well as to other domestic destinations. Of the total, about 430 000 tons was railed for export in 2011 although this has exceeded 800 000 tons in the recent past. Iron ore traffic from Thabazimbi currently exceeds 850 000 tons per annum and is sent to Vanderbijlpark, and Newcastle (KZN). Cement and clinker production from the factory at Dwaalboom at the end of a branch from Northam provides over 550 000 tons of cement traffic per annum.

The Pyramid - Lephalale line is 347 km in length. The section from Pretoria North to Rosslyn is electrified at 3 kV DC for Metro services, while freight traffic is handled by 25 kV AC locomotives. A new line from Pyramid South was constructed to Wildebeeshoek (near De Wildt) to enable through running of AC trains to Pyramid South, from where they change over to DC operation to Sentrarand (or Pretoria North and southwards).

Train control on the Pyramid South to Lephalale section is by radio train order. (the Track Warrant system) On average, 12 trains operate in each direction every day between Pyramid South and Rustenburg. Up to six trains run on to Thabazimbi and 3 to Lephalale These are all long air-braked trains, usually 80 wagons in length.

Transnet announced in 2006 that an investigation was being made into the possibility of constructing a new line from Lephalale to link with the Richards Bay coal line to cater for greatly increased volumes of export coal. This would relieve pressure on the present route There is an estimated 1,63 billion tons of coal in the Waterberg area which includes Lephalale towards the Botswana border and the area along the Soutpansberg.

Groenbult - Tzaneen - Hoedspruit (and Phalaborwa branch) - Kaapmuiden

This 384 km route was first opened between Komatipoort and Newington in 1910 as the Selati Railway which was conceived to tap mineral resources in the Murchison Range. As originally projected, the line was to be privately financed but ultimately it came under state control. It was then extended from Newington northwards to Tzaneen in 1912, and Soekmekaar on the Pietersburg - Messina (now Musina) line in 1915.

The original junction at Soekmekaar faced north but it was later decided to deviate the line to create a south facing junction. This was done in 1966, reaching the main line at Groenbult, several kilometres south of Soekmekaar. It was decided to deviate the southern end of the line to avoid the Kruger Park because of the growing traffic from Phalaborwa. This was done in 1971 and the new line was built to main line standards and electrified as part of the Phalaborwa branch line upgrade.

The Phalaborwa branch section of the line generated over 5 million tons of traffic during the 2011 review period. About 2.2-million tons was rock phosphate traffic and 3.6-million tons was magnetite.

The section north of Hoedspruit has almost been relegated to that a light traffic density arterial route but it forms part of an alternative line to the Pretoria - Beit Bridge main line for traffic between KwaZulu Natal and points north of the border. For this reason it is a strategically important route. In addition to transit traffic, citrus fruit traffic is sourced from various points, some of which moves north to Groenbult and some moves to the south via Kaapmuiden and points beyond. The construction of the Swaziland link in 1986 has now shortened the distance to Richards Bay to a considerable degree.

The line is electrified at 3 kV and operated by CTC between Kaapmuiden and Phalaborwa. Diesel traction is used to Tzaneen and Groenbult, junction of the Polokwane - Beit Bridge section of the mainline from Pretoria. The 65 km section from Kaapmuiden to Hazyview and Mkhuhlu falls within Mpumalanga Province.

Local Lines: Rural Branch lines

Northam - Middelwit (and Dwaalboom)

This 27 km branch was opened in 1929 as part of a 94 km extension from Boshoek on the Pretoria North - Rustenburg line. It is of interest that five years later another new line was opened to Thabazimbi to serve the iron ore mines in the area. Northam, as such became a junction point.

The Middelwit branch first served agricultural interests but in later years a platinum mine was opened at Kilkenny, 10 km west of Northam. Still later, exploitation of a large limestone deposit was begun and a private railway line was extended several kilometres westwards to Dwaalboom. A cement factory was established but mothballed for a number of years because of a countrywide oversupply. The situation has now changed and the factory has re-opened and plans are to increase the supply of cement production for distribution in Gauteng.

Pienaarsrivier - Marble Hall

A 123 km branch was first opened to Settlers in 1906 as a 2 foot (610mm) narrow gauge railway. As such, it was the first branch line to be constructed in present-day Limpopo. It was converted to 3'-6" (1 065mm) in 1923 and extended to Tuinplaas. Finally, in 1934 the branch was extended to Marble Hall as a guaranteed line for a large iron and steel production company who began to exploit the lime body.

The branch has been inoperative since 2004 but it is possible that the quarry might use rail again in the future.

Nylstroom - Vaalwater

This 74 km branch was opened in 1925 to serve agricultural development in the area. The railway administration cancelled services, first to Vaalwater, and later to Alma and these too have now been cancelled. The line is intact and could be re-opened as part of the Spoornet strategy to increase its share of the general freight market. The alternative would be to out-source or concession the operation to a local service provider.

Mookgophong - Zebediela

84 km in length, this branch was opened to Singlewood in 1924 to serve agricultural development in the Springbok Flats area. It was extended to Zebediela in 1928 to serve a developing irrigation farming community. This eventually became the largest citrus estate in Africa - if not the world.

After transport deregulation, much of the line's traffic went over to road although a lime operation at Immerpan continued to use rail until the early 2003. This, too, has now closed and the branch is currently inactive.