TRANSNET Freight Rail (TFR) said it “remained resolute” in its commiment to rail 60 million tons (Mt) of coal in its current financial year despite a two-week strike in which deliveries of the fuel ground to a standstill.
“With 150 days left we have not revised the 60Mt,” said Ali Motala, managing executive for the North Corridor at TFR. As per its contract terms with customers, TFR grades its performance from April to March 2023.
“We are working tirelessly to continue the improvements that we started to see before the strike,” said Motala. Following a 10 day maintenance shutdown in August, TFR reduced the cycle time of trains to 76 hours from 86 hours previously, said Motala.
“With the teams we are working tirelessly to continue the improvements that we started to see before strike,” he added.
On October 21, Transnet announced it had partially lifted a force majeure imposed after its two main unions launched a strike for higher wages on October 6. The rail and ports utility subsequently agreed to pay union members a 6% wage lift.
TFR has come in for some harsh criticism from the mining sector. CEO of the Minerals Council, Roger Baxter said earlier this month that while power rationing was “in our faces every day … how many people know that at the logistics level the performance is as bad?”
Asked for her response to the council’s assessment, CEO of TFR, Sizakele Mzimela acknowledged that the network had lost an opportunity to deliver more coal at a time when prices for the fuel were high. “We are fully aligned, including with the Minerals Council, that all of us could have benefited a lot more – including TFR and the economy – had we had the means to move more of the coal volumes,” said Mzimela.
She promised an improved performance once an agreement was signed with Chinese original equipment manufacturers to provide spare parts that would return an estimated 311 locomotives back to the network. “We have enough locomotives in terms of number, we don’t have enough in operation,” she said.
TFR is trying to finalise a new procurement agreement with Chinese OEMS, including Chinese Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) following the cancellation by Transnet and the Special Investigating Unit of a contract for delivery of 1,064 locomotives by previous Transnet management deemed to have been irregular. As a consequence of the cancellation and efforts by Transnet to litigate the matter, spares parts for existing locomotives have been hard to secure.
Mzimela defended her organisation saying the ore line, which transports iron and manganese ore from the Northern Cape, was among the best in the world although unusual weather recently had presented challenges. “The challenge in manganese is that the system is fully utilised and we need to make sure we build additional capacity,” she said.
“I don’t believe we have lost control,” said Mzimela. “There is not anything that demonstrates that. There is not a single mining company that has reported losses this year and they continue to generate revenue.”