Transnet clears 97 coal wagons from “accident” site at Ulundi – but force majeure goes on

TRANSNET said it had cleared wagons from a derailed coal train on its North Corridor route that links coal mines in South Africa’s Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces with port facilities in Richards Bay.

The derailment occurred on November 8 outside Intshamanzi, near Ulundi in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province.

Commenting on the incident last week, Transnet said that “threats and disruptions … by disgruntled groups seeking business opportunities” had preceded the derailment.

The derailment resulted in the transport and freight utility declaring a force majeure which it said today had not yet been lifted while debris remained at the accident site.

However, the scale of the event is becoming clearer. Some 97 wagons were derailed which is equal to about 10,000 tons of coal. The site was cleared despite heavy rains and “… the very complex recovery processes”, Transnet said.

“This is almost 24 hours sooner than was initially anticipated when the recovery and clean-up work resumed in earnest on Friday evening,” it added.

The logistics that went into the recovery process are significant. In addition to the two government departments and the granting of “emergency approvals” by three provinces, South African police services, including the Flying Squad were also required.

Transnet described it as “a major feat”.

“TFR will be able to determine the extent of the damage and when normal train operations can commence once the derailment site has been completely cleared of the spilled coal and debris,” it said.

It is still unclear the extent to which the derailment will affect TFR’s target to deliver 60 million tons of coal to its ports in the year ended March 2023.

Transnet said in October 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 (Transnet Freight Rail). As per its contract terms with customers, TFR grades its performance from April to March 2023.

The Minerals Council calculated that including the effects of a recent strike, as well as Transnet logjams, the country would suffer annualised revenue losses of R50bn this year, 43% more than R35bn last year. This covers losses on revenue of iron ore, coal, chrome, ferrochrome and manganese exports.

It said that R151bn could be gained in additional exports, with the concomitant benefits of employment in mining increasing by 40,000 jobs to 500,000, the fiscus benefiting from improved tax revenue and higher revenues for Transnet if all rail and ports systems were optimally and efficiently run at design capacity.