Rail infrastructure upgrades remain a core focus of the ongoing industrialisation of Africa, where the transportation of goods and commodities is often difficult and costly, due to underinvestment in rail infrastructure.
China’s October 2015 announcement to pledge US$50-billion towards the industrialisation and development of African infrastructure – together with Transnet’s R300-billion seven-year Market Development Strategy (MDS) – is a clear indication of the tangible commitment to this lucrative sector.
The MDS is part of Transnet’s ambition to accommodate the fifth-largest railway system in the world by 2019. According to Statistics South Africa, over 734 million tons of freight was moved in South Africa in 2013. It is estimated that over 70% of this freight was moved by road, despite the fact that railways make up a substantial portion of Africa’s transport infrastructure – further highlighting the need for rail upgrades.
Since its announcement in 2012, the MDS has made significant strides and, as a result, South Africa will continue to shift its freight from road to rail, cutting both logistical costs and carbon emissions in the process. According to the MDS overview, rail volumes are projected to increase from approximately 200 million tons to 350 million tons by the end of the programme in 2019.
In March 2014, Transnet announced a R50-billion ($3.6-billion) contract with four manufacturers to build a fleet of 1 064 new locomotives to drive forward the MDS. Power, efficiency, and reliability are key to powering these machines, which are responsible for pulling multiple wagons that carry substantial amounts of precious cargo across vast distances. Any engine failures and associated downtime is too costly and therefore not an option