The capacity of South Africa’s coal export corridor to transport material mined in the Limpopo province’s Waterberg coalfields has been increased with the completion of a new 1.8 km passing loop at Matlabas, Transnet reports.
The loop, which enables 100-wagon trains to cross without disrupting other rail operations on the line, was opened on Thursday by Public Enterprises Deputy Minister Bulelani Magwanishe. Previously, the Matlabas loop could only accommodate 50-wagon trains.
The State-owned freight logistics group said the project had increased the line’s yearly capacity from 400 000 t/y to two-million tons by enabling Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) to increase its weekly service from two to five trains.
The announcement follows recent criticism by Exxaro Resources, which described as “disappointing” the rail supply in the Waterberg region since the beginning of the year.
In a pre-close update on operational performance from January to June 30, The JSE-listed company reported receiving only 3.5 trains a week from TFR instead of the required five, and said the situation was likely to persist until the culmination, in July, of the coal line shutdown.
The Matlabas loop was described by Transnet as the first phase in a five-phase expansion of the coal line between the Waterberg and the Richards Bay Coal Terminal, in KwaZulu-Natal.
Construction of the second phase is under way to increase the line’s yearly capacity to six-million tons. This stage involves the construction of a 2.8 km loop at Thabazimbi, the building of a new five-kilometre line to connect the loops at Bleskop and Norite, as well as the building of a new seven-kilometre line to connect the loops at Dam and Onderstepoort and create another double line section.
“The long loops and short double line sections will enable long trains to pass without disrupting operations. Upon completion of the second stage, TFR will increase the current service from one 200-wagon train a day to three big trains a day,” the company said in a statement.
The projects formed part of a larger R21.8-billion programme to increase the export coal corridor’s capacity to 81-million tons.
Transnet railed 72.1-million tons down the corridor in 2015/16 and expects coal volumes to recover to 75-million tons this year, which is still below the 76.3-million railed in 2015. The forecast is also well below projections in its 2012 Market Demand Strategy, which assumed that coal volumes would have climbed to 84-million tons in 2016/17.
As a result of the fall in commodity prices, Transnet had moderated the pace of its expenditure on both the coal and iron-ore lines, but insists that it will continue to expand rail capacity and open up export capacity for coal miners in the Waterberg.