TFR repairs North Corridor rail route following cable theft in record 15 hours

TRANSNET Freight Rail (TFR) said today it had repaired damage related to cable theft and vandalism on the North Corridor – the rail route that carries South Africa’s coal exports – in a record 15 hours.

It had previously announced repairs would take 18 hours.

There were two incidents of theft on Tuesday evening of which one – in Mswaneni between Vryheid and Ulundi on a tunnel bypass – saw “extensive” removal of wire. Contact wire was also vandalised while spans of steel work were damaged.

Approximately 1,500 km of cable was stolen in the financial year ending March 2022. The net financial impact of this is approximately R4.1bn which includes operational disruptions, security costs, remediation and lost opportunity of foreign direct earnings.

The interruption to coal exports is nonetheless an unwanted hindrance as TFR attempts to claw back lost time following a poor performance in the first half of the year, and comes at a time when export prices for coal are about 165% higher year-to-date.

In calendar 2021 the Richards Bay Coal Terminal exported just 58.72 million tons (Mt) of coal which was the lowest annual export volume since 1996 when 58.7Mt was exported. The RBCT’s targeted export volume for 2021 was 77Mt which matched TFR’s current “nameplate” capacity to rail coal to the RBCT with an additional 3.5Mt for the much smaller Grindrod RBT terminal.

TFR recently undertook a 10-day maintenance shutdown on the coal line in which about 36 kilometres of line on the coal network had also been replaced. It was hoped this work would see RBCT match last year’s export volumes.