The rail freight system of Limpopo is a crucial element of the South African transportation system and is a significant factor in the movement of freight within the Province and through the Province to destinations in the interior, both within and beyond South African borders. The Limpopo rail system generates significant traffic which passes through or into neighbouring provinces in South Africa and it is of great strategic and economic value. There are three important main lines, including the Pyramid South (Pretoria) to Beit Bridge line which connects with the Zimbabwean system and points north to Dar es Salaam. The second important line is the branch from Pyramid South to Lephalale, serving coal, iron ore and chrome mines. The third is the arterial line from Goudplaas on the Beit Bridge line, running south-eastwards to the Maputo line at Kaapmuiden. It serves the Tzaneen, Letsitele agricultural area in the north and the mining area on the Phalaborwa branch in the south. There are three agricultural branches running from the Beit Bridge line but they have all closed in recent years, although there is still traffic potential which could be of benefit if they were to be re-opened in the future.
As part of its functionality in terms of the National land Transport Transition Act (NLTTA), the Limpopo Department of Transport & Public Works needs to take a holistic view of all freight transport facilities in Mpumalanga, and establish their value within the context of an overall "Freight Plan" for the province. Considering the established freight transport corridors of Limpopo, a short, medium and long term utilisation plan for railway stations, sidings and facilities should be developed jointly by the government and the railways administration.
During the 2011 calendar year over 17-million tons of general freight cargo was transported by rail across Limpopo on two important arterial routes, both of which catered for domestic and international traffic; one long branch having main line standard which generated over 6-million tons of coal and iron ore traffic; and three rural branch lines.. Of this total, just over a half million tons consisted of transit traffic, moving through Gauteng Province to Beit Bridge and points north.
It can be seen, therefore that rail is a significant provider of transportation capacity; however, its market share of general freight traffic has is declined in recent years.
It is necessary for the Province to monitor this situation. By virtue of the provincial requirement in terms of the NLTTA to provide an integrated modal transport and freight transport plan, it will be necessary for the province to monitor the market share of freight cargo carried by the different modes of freight transport. The Limpopo Freight Transport Databank will facilitate this process.
The substantial reduction in general freight traffic, has also resulted in fewer industrial area shunting activities. This is apparent in Polokwane, Rustenburg and Mokopane. The Province should request that the railways administration should investigate the status of all private sidings in the province and not encourage companies to close these facilities until a full appraisal is made about their future value.
Some seven years ago, national government at Cabinet level approved a general policy to encourage greater use of rail transport. This resulted in a complete evaluation of the assets, liabilities and market status of the railways administration. The recently announced R 200 billion recapitalisation programme is the first major state intervention to address declining rail cargoes. For the Limpopo province to ensure maximum benefit from this railway investment programme, joint planning with central government will be necessary.
An increase in rail market share assumes that the substantial investment planned for rail infrastructure, rolling stock and locos will facilitate a significant improvement in rail service delivery. It must be appreciated that as the railways administration investment programme has barely commenced, there will be some delay before an overall improvement in service delivery is evident. In this respect the administration are likely to follow a targeted marketing approach, concentrating initially on specific commodities or areas. The province needs to ensure that the targeted areas for improved performance are in line with provincial developmental plans.
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