Johannesburg - A rail line under construction that will link Gauteng with Maputo via Swaziland by 2017 will improve the fortunes of Swaziland Railways, which is partnering on the project with Transnet Freight Rail.
The link will shave off hundreds of kilometres of rail travel for shippers, who will be spared transporting cargo north from Johannesburg to Komatipoort and east to Maputo’s harbour. It will be a direct route that is expected to significantly raise Swaziland Railways’ profits. “We expect 90 percent of our business to come from trans-shipments using the new line,” said chief executive Stephenson Ngubane.
About 75 percent of its profit comes from freight shipped through Swaziland. At a cost of R5 billion, Swaziland Railway is constructing 96km of the new line’s 186km length. Transnet Freight Rail is building the remainder, starting at Lothair in Mpumalanga.
The Lothair line will connect with Swaziland Railway’s rail head in Sidvokodvo, east of Manzini, where existing track will carry loads to Maputo and Durban, in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Phase 1 was concept and phase 2 was the probability study, when we explored four route options. Now the route has been selected and we are in the design phase, doing economic viability studies, land issues, everything that goes into planning. Phase 4 is construction. The line will be operating in 2017,” Ngubane said.
The country’s rail links service about 4 million tons of freight a year, with a quarter originating in or destined for Swaziland. Profits grew 40 percent for the company in the year to March compared with the previous year due to new business transporting iron ore tailings from a mine in the west of the country.
Higher volumes of its primary export, sugar, were also experienced.
At a press briefing in Mbabane last week, Siyabonga Gama, Transnet Freight Rail’s chief executive, said construction of the Lothair line would create jobs for 2 700 Swazis, which would temporarily mitigate a chronically high unemployment rate. In South Africa, 3 400 jobs would be created.
The long-term employment impact arising from train operations and maintenance extend to an estimated 300 jobs in Swaziland while there will be 500 in South Africa.”
In addition to sugar and iron ore tailings, Swazi rail traffic has included some industrial inputs for Swaziland’s shrinking manufacturing sector and South African minerals. About 1 000 tons of vermiculite, 2.8 million tons of magnetite and 1.7 million tons of phosphate mined in Phalaborwa pass eastward through Swaziland en route to Richards Bay.
The new line is intended to help solidify rail integration in the southern African region.
“We want to integrate all rail services regionally, and expand the rail system. Customers must be given similar service from all rail lines, including landlocked countries. The regional rail systems will be made compatible. Goods will move from one point to anywhere in the region without interruption,” Ngubane said.
Rail offers lower shipping costs due to the greater fuel efficiency compared with shipping by road, he added.
“The focal point is unit cost. How much does it cost to move one ton a distance of one kilometre? Rail is slower than road but long, heavy, slow-moving trains use less fuel than trucks. But you need a quantity of cargo to fill the trains, which is why rail is better for minerals and heavy cargo.”