Industry wants rail freight

Some 80% of SA industries move only 10% of goods by rail. Heavy freight traffic multiply health and safety risks, delays and deterioration on African roads.

The Supply Chain Foresight survey by Barloworld Logistics in early 2010 found that some rail confidence remains, since 46% of SA companies said they would consider moving 20% of their goods by rail.

Transnet is investing R93.6-billion in rail infrastructure over the next five years. The Department of Transport also supports moving more bulk cargo back to rail.

Hazchem rail freight transport health and safety management is backed by the SA Railway Safety Regulator (RSR), which promotes compliance with SANS 10405, a standard for packaging, placarding, labelling and handling.

Business also has obligations to comply with United Nations requirements for transporting haz goods. In addition, Responsible Care encourages signatories to address public health and safety ass well as environmental concerns.

A peak in heavy cargo road freight during the early 2000s boom, and deteriorating rail services, together forced road transport volumes in SA up from 17% in the late 1990s to 85% by 2010.

Rail could offer cost advantages to bulk materials handlers, said freight transport safety specialist Richard Durrant of Transheq Consulting. “But some large companies had to move back to road transport of raw materials to keep their production plants running.”

Once road logistics are established, users and suppliers are unlikely to return to rail. Bulk materials and hazchem operators are among the sectors forced into road freight by static or dwindling rail infrastructure and capacity.

Industry requires more specialised rolling stock and improved branch line facililties. Freight carriers in Africa have little or no alternative transportation, said Dr Laurraine Lotter, executive director of the Chemical and Allied Industries Association (CAIA).

The cost of road maintenance, and maintenance backlogs, should spur governments into rail development. Dr Lotter adds that formal undertakings to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, adds impetus to the need for rail capacity.

CAIA is developing a list of prerequisites to move chemical cargo and hazardous materials transport from road to rail, and will appeal to government to aid a reviewed freight logisitics strategy.

Public complaints about traffic hazards, delays and road damage due to bulk cargo, are among the elements spurring the strategy review. CAIA and the RSR signed a memorandum to cooperate on enhancing rail transport safety by sharing information and training rail workers on hazchem handling.

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