Private security has “huge” success on Transnet’s coal line

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Gallo Images / Foto24 / Deaan Vivier

The privately funded security on Transnet’s coal-fired railway line has yielded huge success, prompting miners to step up their efforts to crack down on cable thieves and vandals.

During a pre-close presentation hosted by Exxaro Resources, one of South Africa’s largest coal producers and coal exporters, the company said the industry has responded to crippling security challenges on the Transnet rail line by contracting with service providers to increase the existing safety services along the line.

“We have had tremendous success in the areas where we have deployed these additional drone teams and tactical field response teams,” Sakkie Swanepoel, Exxaro group marketing manager, said on Thursday.

“Transnet Freight Rail can confirm that since the first week of November, when we started to collaborate with our coal customers on safety, we have seen an 80% reduction in the length of cable stolen on the Northern Corridor”, the rail operator said in a written response to Fin24. “Although there is some reduction in parts, the number of incidents always fluctuates from week to week. We will have a more meaningful picture in a few weeks.”

Another major coal producer, Glencore, also said on Thursday that the collaborative efforts to secure the rail line were indeed paying off.

Industry provided additional resources primarily for the night shift and with a focus on the section between Pretoria and Richards Bay.

Copper cable theft and vandalism have wreaked havoc on the Transnet rail network, with 100,000 km of cables lost to thieves between January and October this year. Coal miners have been particularly frustrated as the resulting disruptions have coincided with record export coal prices, while most of the export capacity is at the Richards Bay Coal Terminal, designed for only receive the products by rail. To make matters worse, abundant coal stocks in Eskom weighed on domestic demand for coal.

Exxaro expects its total coal production and sales volumes for 2021 to decline by 8%, largely due to logistical constraints. It expects its exports for the year to be closer to 7.5 million tonnes, compared to the 11.6 million tonnes initially forecast.

While the initial efforts have yielded encouraging results, there is still a lot of work to be done, Swanepoel said.

“Unfortunately, as we know, if you put up fences in your own neighborhood higher up, thieves are just going to neighborhoods without fences. It’s pretty much the same with the coal line… the thieves have moved to other areas where the security presence is not that great. . “

Coal industry players, including Exxaro, have now completed an initial agreement to support Transnet and the industry has agreed to devote even more resources to securing the coal line.

Exxaro is also now working to extend this initiative north of Pretoria on the line to Lephalale.

“We are working with the steel industry, the cement industry, the chromium industry and the coal industry to try to find a common understanding between all these players from different industries in order to find a solution,” said Swanepoel. . “We are making progress, but much slower than we have been able to do on the historic portion of the coal line.”

Aside from the safety issue, the coal line has also been affected by operational issues that have affected the rest of the Transnet rail network this year.

One of the biggest problems has been the inability to source spare parts for some locomotives.

Here too, the private sector is involved.

As for the 19E – a class of locomotive made in Japan – the industry has worked with Transnet to involve third party sourcing with a solution likely to be achieved in the coming months.

For three classes of locomotives known as the 20E, 21E and 22E, the case is more complex as the spare parts are withheld by the original equipment manufacturers, the state-owned Chinese Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC), apparently in retaliation for proceedings that Transnet has launched against it and others over illegal tenders linked to Gupta.

“When Transnet Freight Rail tried to go to other original equipment manufacturers in China to get some of these spare parts, [it seemed clear] that some were leaning on them not to cooperate, ”Swanepoel said.

This remains the biggest challenge, and while some plans are in place to overcome it, Swanepoel said it would be unwise to divulge more details at this point.

Transnet Freight Rail said that the green shoots for improvement observed in the Northern Corridor are “a testament to the power of collaboration” and “highlight the need to continue working with our customers and partners on initiatives that will provide solutions. sustainable in the long term to the current situation. challenges “.


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