Transport infrastructure key for South Africa’s future

railway-508568_640.jpgSouth Africa's transport sector is a key contributor to the country's competitiveness in global markets. The transport modes that form the infrastructure are rail, road, marine, air and pipelines. It is regarded as a crucial engine for economic growth and social development in the country.

South Africa has an extensive rail network – the 14th longest in the world – connecting with networks in the sub-Saharan region. South Africa's freight rail system however degenerated considerably after investment was limited in the mid-80s, resulting in 30 years of underinvestment in the rail industry.

In 2013, about 734 million tons of freight was moved in South Africa, according to an Oxford Business Group (OBG) report, out of which nearly 71% was moved by road, despite the fact that railways make up 80% of Africa's infrastructure.

In March 2014, Transnet announced an R50bn contract with four manufacturers to build a 1,064-strong locomotive suite. The move marked the start of the biggest rail recapitalisation programme in the country's history.

Transforming rail infrastructure is important as it will have a direct impact on the country's key industries, in particular mining. One of the initiatives already in place is upping capacity on the country's coal transport line.

The road freight sector in South Africa is a major contributor to the local economy. Road transport between cities offers greater speed and adaptability which is why it's been the chosen mode of transport especially when transporting goods for a long time. However, the impact of heavy freight vehicles on roads is significant, and the cost of maintenance and upgrades is increasing as traffic demands grow. Having enjoyed considerable growth over the past two decades, the road freight industry is having a tough year. Operators are faced with numerous challenges which involves constant change in the form of increased tariffs, permits and licence fees, while e-tolls are reducing profit margins.

Approximately 96% of the country's exports are conveyed by sea, and the eight commercial ports are the channels for trade between South Africa and its southern African partners. South African port efficiency has improved considerably as a result of investment in new assets such as ship to shore cranes and other supporting handling equipment. Competition is however fierce as South Africa's ports are steadily losing their reputation of being the best in Africa, with ports in East and West Africa embarking on major maritime investment programmes. Continues investment will be needed to ensure that we stay on top.

Air Cargo is essential to Africa's economic growth. But poor record of safety and security coupled with insufficient infrastructure, lack of regulation and government actions have been the main constraints to the air cargo industry in this continent. If solutions can be found for some of these challenges, the opportunities for growth of the industry are huge.

Air cargo remains a fairly small component of total freight transported in South Africa. Air cargo tonnage has grown to about 400 000 tonnes per annum, with the bulk, some 80%, being flown in the holds of scheduled passenger flights.

Pipeline transport is unique among modes of transport in that the pipe, which facilitates freight movement, is both the way and the vehicle, and it is permanently connected to terminals, which facilitate freight storage. This feature makes it the only mode of transport that does not require any materials or goods handling. Transnet pipelines are the custodian of the country's strategic pipeline assets and currently servicing two key industries (fuel and gas) by transporting petroleum and gas products over varying distances.

The liquid fuels network traverses the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Gauteng, North West and Mpumalanga. The intake stations are the two Durban refineries - the crude refinery at Coalbrook (Natref) and the Sasol 2 and Sasol 3 synfuel plants at Secunda. The gas pipeline, a converted line previously used for liquids, runs from Secunda to Durban via Empangeni.
Sound and solid transport infrastructure remains crucial to generating economic growth, alleviating poverty, reducing inequality and increasing domestic and international competitiveness but more importantly to generate jobs.

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