A locomotive pulls freight wagons loaded with coal through the Transnet SOC Ltd. rail depot in Ermelo, South Africa PIcture: Dean Hutton/Bloomberg
A locomotive pulls freight wagons loaded with coal through the Transnet SOC Ltd. rail depot in Ermelo, South Africa PIcture: Dean Hutton/Bloomberg

Transnet freight corridor threatened as slums, rampant equipment theft disrupts Durban-to-Joburg rail network

By Vernon Mchunu Time of article published Aug 16, 2021

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DURBAN - THE proliferation of slums along the Durban-to-Joburg rail network and theft of infrastructure were major stumbling blocks in the viability of the key freight corridor, posing threats to the country’s economic growth.

This has been revealed by Transnet group chief executive Portia Derby, who called on eThekwini, Pietermaritzburg and provincial security and political leadership to join hands with the state-owned entity against what has been described as an escalating trend.

Derby spoke during a recent “trolley trip” inspection of a variety of Transnet’s operations, with a focus on the Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) division’s infrastructure, as the company gears up for its roads-to-rail turnaround strategy.

The state entity said that while more than 600 arrests – including four company employees – have been made since the beginning of the year, “the theft of infrastructure along with the increasing community encroachment on the rail network were continuing unabated,” citing Durban, Pietermaritzburg and the surrounding areas as hot spots.

“Transnet is losing about 120km of overhead cables a month due to the high levels of cable theft and vandalism of critical infrastructure,” the company said in a statement.

“In the past five years, Transnet has seen an increase of 177% in security-related incidents, resulting in an increase in volume loss.

“In the first five months of 2021 alone, there have been on average 650 incidents per month.”

With respect to 2020 alone, TFR reported 5 138 incidents ranging from cable theft, and vandalism of rail equipment to cable theft.

The division said that between

April 2019 and January 2020, it lost 354 227m of overhead cables, resulting in an average of 21 trains being cancelled a day during that period.

The recent inspection included Derby; TFR chief executive Siza Mzimela; KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala; Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC Ravi Pillay; eThekwini executive committee councillor Diana Hoorzuk; and Kgathatso Tlhakudi, director-general of the Department of Public Enterprises.

“One of the key observations (made during the visit) was the increasing number of communities encroaching on the rail servitudes, particularly around Durban, Pietermaritzburg and the surrounding areas.

“This, together with continuing vandalism of Transnet infrastructure, remains a significant constraint in the ability of this corridor to perform at design capacity,” the company stated.

“It’s critical that we work jointly with our partners from the provincial government, the municipalities and the surrounding communities to protect the integrity of the infrastructure, and provide security, to enable rail to reclaim its position as a significant freight mover,” said Derby.

“The Durban-Gauteng corridor is strategically placed to benefit from high volumes, particularly from container traffic. These operational constraints remain a bottleneck towards our ability to achieve growth along this corridor, which would have a beneficial impact on communities along this line and on the provincial and national economy,” added Mzimela.

As part of intensified security measures, a growing number of arrests have been reported by the company, including one which culminated in the sentencing of Richard Sosha on March 4 to 13 years imprisonment in relation to the theft of 30 pendrol springs, the company said, adding that those arrested included four employees attached to the Freight Rail division.

“Transnet continues to urge all our stakeholders, including scrap metal dealers, foundries and smelters to refrain from buying overhead cables from unregistered traders.

“Transnet also encourages members of the community to report any suspicious activities using the TFR’s anonymous hotline number 0800 003 056 or email [email protected] or to call the Crime hotline number on 086 00 10111,” the company said.

Speaking after the trolley trip, Zikalala said: “In collaboration with other organs of state, the KZN government is committed to finding a lasting solution to ensure that the strategic Durban-Gauteng corridor is not further compromised.”

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