DURBAN - T he KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) ports of Durban and Richards Bay and the related road and rail logistics chain shone in 2017 and that has continued into the 2018 with road transport in particular showing a double-digit increase in February on a year ago before a slowdown in March and then a recovery in April.

The slowdown is in part related to an earlier Easter as Good Friday shifted into March this year from April last year. 

Shops need to stock up before the time, which is why the month before Easter and Christmas are normally the busiest months of the year from a land transport perspective.    

The land transport data released by Statistics South Africa saw an acceleration in the growth rate of the tonnage moved by road to 15.9% year-on-year (y/y) in February from 5.5% y/y in December before a slowdown to 7.8% y/y in March and then a recovery to 9.6% y/y in April. 

Rail transport is lagging with a 2.8% y/y drop in April after a 1.8% y/y gain in March, a 2.0% y/y rise in February and a 2.7% y/y drop in January. The poor performance is in part due to a series of derailments on the Sishen-Saldanha iron ore line, so KZN rail volumes have held up well with bulk exports out of Richards Bay, which are mostly coal, rising by 14.7% y/y in the first five months of this year.

Last year the payload transported by both road and rail surged by 9.2% in 2017 after a small 2.2% gain in 2016 and a 2.9% fall in 2015. 

In particular, the payload transported by road had a double-digit increase with a 10.8% increase to 683.831 million tonnes (Mt), while the payload transported by rail grew by 4.8% to 229.843 Mt. This means that rail once again lost market share to road. In 2017 rail had a share just above a quarter (25.1%), while in 2012 its share was 28.6%.

As Richards Bay is responsible for the majority of South African bulk exports, while Durban is responsible for the majority of bulk imports and container imports, what applies at the national level is even more relevant to KZN.

The double-digit growth in road transport payloads was in part due to the harvesting of a record maize crop in 2017, which was more than double 2016’s harvest. This resulted in many months of double-digit growth in land transport payloads. In 2017 there have been seven months when road transport, which is responsible for moving some 80% of the maize crop, has had double-digit y/y increases.