The government is conducting a feasibility study to introduce a high-speed rail development between Pretoria, Johannesburg and Durban, says transport minister Fikile Mbalula.
Presenting to parliament’s select committee on transport on Wednesday (25 August), Mbalula said that the planned development will carry passengers as well as freight.
He said that the government is also looking to overhaul its freight-by-rail plans, and is working on an updated rail policy for the country, currently being developed as a white paper.
Mbalula warned that the recent unrest seen in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng will cause long-term damage to the country’s cargo and freight industry. The closure of the N3 had a significant impact on traffic volumes that rely on the highway and that the major route typically has traffic is in excess of 6,000 heavy vehicles per day.
The four-day closure of the N3 meant R12 billion worth of goods did not arrive at their intended destinations, he said.
He said that affected truck operators – operating a cross-border service – are already actively seeking alternative routes through other Southern African countries, avoiding South Africa due to the unrest.
“Cargo owners are also looking at transporting their cargo through Namibia, Angola. Mozambique and further north,” he said. “If this trend continues, South Africa is at a risk of losing its gateway status for transit freight.”
The redevelopment of South Africa’s rail and freight sector is a key focus of the government’s infrastructure plans over the next 30 years.
On 11 August, the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) published a national infrastructure plan, focusing on the government’s major developments up until 2050.
The DPWI said that by 2050 freight transport should facilitate domestic and cross border movement of goods to enable industrialisation, diversification, trade and development.
“It is proposed that the balance of transport projects need reassessment in anticipation of the shift of cargo off-road to rail. Transnet Freight Rail (should) complete its accounting and commercial separation and meaningfully accommodate third party operators by 2022/3.”
The plan will also see the establishment of both the Independent Ports Authority and a single transport economic regulator by 2022/23, with a plan to integrate rail, road, ports and intermodal hubs and freight villages by 2022/3.