An aerial view of part of the Port of Richards Bay. Picture: Andre Meyer.

Richards Bay was to score its share of Transnet’s R300 billion infrastructure spending bonanza when R30bn is pumped into new infrastructure and the upgrading of its port over the next eight years.

A new coal terminal servicing emerging coal mining companies was on the cards and estimated to cost around R15bn.

Preliminary details of the plan were revealed by Transnet executives in the Zululand industrial hub yesterday.

Transnet’s Sudesh Maharaj said two major projects had been earmarked – one included a massive overhaul of the general freight side of the port to expand its capacity and increase efficiency; the other was the new coal terminal. Together the projects would cost between R25bn and R30bn.

The coal terminal would have an opening capacity of handling 14 million tons of coal for export a year.

“Once final approvals have been received, we expect the investment and construction in both projects will be complete by 2020,” he said.

“The coal terminal is not meant to compete with the existing Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT), which is privately operated and much bigger.

“The new coal facility would have space for expansion to handle 32 million tons of coal annually,” said Maharaj.

RBCT is the single largest coal terminal in the world with a capacity to cater for 91 million tons, but bottlenecks on Transnet’s Freight Rail side have hamstrung the delivery of coal to the terminal from Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

Last year RBCT exported a record 68.3 million tons, mainly to China, India and Europe. The major JSE-listed coal mining giants which own the facility take up its capacity and new emerging coal mining companies struggle to get access.

Maharaj said there were problems with rail infrastructure to deliver coal to the port, but Transnet’s Freight Rail was investing billions in upgrading the line.

There was also a new partnership with Swaziland to establish rail links to transport coal to KZN. Freight Rail said it was committed to spending R15.4bn on upgrading the rail capacity on the line to 81 million tons a year by next year.

Durban may be getting a new dig-out port, but Richards Bay is also getting a significant share of the action as the premier bulk port,” he said.

“Once marine infrastructure is in place, a private operator may be sought through the company’s procurement processes,” said Maharaj.

Basil Ndlovu, the port engineer for Richards Bay, said Transnet’s spending plans would have a “huge impact” on the local economy.