Clap for steely Transnet. There’s a caveat though
The company’s decisive actions show it has the capacity to give a world-class service
By any measure, Transnet Freight Rail has had a tough year on its premier iron ore export line, with SA’s largest miner of the steel ingredient unsparing in its criticism of the parastatal’s performance.
The declaration of force majeure by Transnet after a truck damaged a rail bridge on the line at the end of November and its hasty return of the line to service two days ahead of schedule were welcome developments, and show the capacity within the company to provide a world-class service.
On what could have been a two- to four-week outage on the line, Transnet’s engineers deployed the best solutions available to bring the bridge back into action within just nine days, actions to be highly commended.
But the problem lies in its performance in the first half of the year, which Kumba Iron Ore CEO Themba Mkhwanazi blamed for R2bn in lost interim revenue. He said there were derailments, cancellations and failures on the line, which is the critical export link to the Saldanha port for iron ore and manganese mines in the Northern Cape.
The 860km line presents its own challenges for trains that are among the world’s longest at 4km.
Transnet is tightlipped on what the problems were in the first half of the year, conceding there were derailments, but that it is working closely with its customers and internally to address the underlying problems.
From the sounds of the latest releases from both Transnet and its customers, there has been close collaboration when the bridge was damaged, and in the words of Transnet’s chief business development officer Gert de Beer it led to “positive partnerships which could be used in future events of similar nature”.
The partners will need these relationships to address the problems bedevilling operations at the start of the year.