DURBAN – Imagine if you could get from Durban to Johannesburg in a little over an hour, what a range of opportunities that would provide for a whole host of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) businesses?
That is possible by the year 2030 if a high-speed rail link is built between the two centres, but in 2018 an equally exciting prospect is the opening of the Maputo-Catembe Bridge that has cut the travel time between Maputo and the South African border post at Kosi Bay from six hours to 90 minutes.
At present most of South Africa’s exports to Mozambique, and in some cases even further as the Maputo port is used as an export port for South African products such as coal and magnetite, is either transported by road or rail via Komati Poort.
The problem is however that the Lebombo border post only operates from 06h00 to midnight normally even though during the Christmas and Easter holiday times it is a 24-hour operation like the Beit Bridge border post between South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Only the bureaucrats know why Lebombo is not a One Stop Border Post as the physical infrastructure in terms of offices has been in place for several years already. The result is that the road to Maputo gets clogged up every morning and what should take you only 90 minutes becomes a five-hour endurance test.
The border post at Kosi Bay is open seven days a week from 08h00 to 17h00, but that may change if traffic picks up significantly, which is what should happen.
Agbiz economist Wandile Sihlobo is excited about the prospects as the previous long time for transit and poor road conditions made it uneconomic for farm exports from KZN via Kosi Bay to Mozambique, but that has now changed as the road has been upgraded and potholes filled in.
The leading agricultural exports by value to Mozambique are beverages and spirits, dairy products, meat, sugar and edible products to a total value in 2017 just short of US$3 billion or some R40 billion.
“An improvement in the transport system to Mozambique could, over time, have positive spin-offs to these products given that they are perishable and need to move fast on the cold chain,” Sihlobo said.
Apart from farm exports, there is the potential for increased two-way tourism as tourists from Mozambique travel to Durban and tourists from South Africa visit Punto de Oro and Maputo.
China’s CSR Corporation said at the 2012 Rail Africa exhibition and conference that high-speed rail links could shrink travel times dramatically opening up vast opportunities.
This means that like commuters between London and northern France, who can enjoy the beach in the evenings after a tough day at the trading desk of a financial institution, South Africans could work in Guateng and live in KZN, reversing the long-established migration pattern of people leaving the coastal province to live in the inland province.
The current CRH380A, which is designed to operate at 380 kilometres an hour (km/h), has already achieved a speed of 416.6 km/h on the Shanghai-Hangzhou Intercity High-Speed Railway, while a next-generation CSR prototype has already achieved 500 km/h in test runs.
The SA Department of Transport has proposed a high-speed rail service linking Johannesburg and Durban in line with other countries such as China, France, Germany, Italy, Taiwan, and the UK.
The world speed record for conventional high-speed rail is held by the V150, a special version of France’s TGV which reached 574.8 km/h on a test run. The world speed record for magnetic levitation (Maglev) trains is held by the Japanese experimental MLX01 at 581 km/h.
High-speed rail travel was pioneered in Japan. Just as in South Africa, one of the spurs was the hosting of an international sports event. In Japan’s case, it was the Tokyo 1964 Olympics, while in South Africa the Gautrain was launched ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
In October 1964 the Shinkansen, known as the Bullet Train in English, started operating between Tokyo and Osaka, a distance of 515 km, which is just more than the distance (as the crow flies) between Johannesburg and Durban. Not one single passenger has been killed in derailments or collisions, even though the Shinkansen has transported more than the world’s current population of 7 billion in the past 54 years.