Breaking News: Service resumes on Transnet’s export coal line

A coal train on Transnet's dedicated coal line to Richards Bay. Picture: Mercury Archives

A coal train on Transnet's dedicated coal line to Richards Bay. Picture: Mercury Archives

Published Jan 18, 2024


Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) announced that at 6.45pm on Thursday evening line 2 on the export coal line at Elubana outside Richards Bay was declared safe for the passage of trains.

“Recovery crews have been working around the clock to restore operations on the line, following the accident in which two trains collided on Sunday, 14 January,” it said in a late-breaking statement on Thursday night.

Weather permitting, the rail service on line 1, was expected to resume before midnight on Saturday.

Transnet has been working to clear the line to Richards Bay, South Africa’s major coal export port, from Mpumalanga, since a derailment on Sunday.

Business Report on Wednesday reported that the state-owned freight operator has not said what caused the derailment and was investigating, and there were no serious injuries or fatalities.

A spokesperson said such was the progress, they expected to recover the line to functionality “sooner rather than later,” with most of the debris expected to be cleared over last night, weather permitting.

The second line was expected to be operational by Saturday night.

Road Freight Association CEO Gavin Relly said on Wednesday this event had underscored the vulnerability of the multi-ore line, due to the risks of outdated manual systems and poor operational control.

“The derailment will take some time to clear - at least a few days - which will have an effect on the pressure to send bulk ore by road,” said Relly.

He said there needed to be a full investigation into what damage was caused to the line and direct systems (eg, signalling and power supply), but more importantly, how such an occurrence could be prevented in future.

He said that for instance, if load shedding had caused the collision, as some media had speculated, then sustainability of electricity supply to all sectors of the line needed to be secured.

DA MP Manny Gounden said there needed to be clear and transparent handling of the accident by TFR.

Richards Bay Coal Terminal is able to handle large vessels and load them at a rate of up to 12 000 tons per hour.

But this latest disruption has compounded what has become a national crisis, with many commentators labelling the issues at South Africa’s key logistics infrastructure almost as big a challenge to the economy as load shedding.

For instance, last year, coal exports were disrupted for 22 days at Richards Bay port, and exports fell 14% to 50.4 million tons, the lowest export volume over 30 years, due to security issues, strikes, equipment shortages, and a train derailment, according to the Dry Cargo online publication.