Road freight under parliament spotlight
Fin24 - Aug 24th 2011, 07:57
Cape Town - The massive volumes of freight being moved across South Africa by road rather than rail came under the spotlight in Parliament on Tuesday.
"The road freight sector carries 87% of the total freight in the country," senior transport department official Clement Manyungwana told MPs.
Briefing members of the transport portfolio committee, he said that in 2003, about 720 million tonnes out of a total 900 million tonnes of surface freight transported had moved by road.
By 2007, the by-road figure had almost doubled to just under 1.4 billion tonnes of the total 1.6 billion tonnes of surface freight moved.
"Among the key challenges we face is the damage of roads due to the intensive usage in the movement of freight, (as well as) congestion, accidents and pollution."
He said the decline in freight rail over the past decade was due to, among other things, a lack of investment in rolling stock, a lack of customer focus, a lack of flexibility and insufficient investment in training, development and staff by the operator.
"We currently have (insufficient) investment in our network and (freight) rolling stock. Transnet currently has a (capital expenditure) of R110bn over the next five years.
"The view is, this is not sufficient; let alone the additional funding that is needed for the railway branchline network.
"Outdated technology within the rail network causes us to have continuous challenges (compared to) road. But a lack of customer focus... is one serious, serious challenge that (causes) our rail (freight operations) to decline.
"This is particularly in terms of the tariff regime that our rail environment charges overnight without, in most instances, consulting with the customers. But also just lack of collaboration with the customer base that can make investments work within the rail space," he said.
Manyungwana's presentation came under fire from Democratic Alliance MP Manny De Freitas, who said he had hoped it would say what was being done, rather than reviewing what was known.
"It's just talk, talk, talk, and there's no plan," he said.
DA transport spokesperson Stuart Farrow called for urgent action to halt further deterioration of the country's road network, which already faced a R140bn maintenance backlog.
He asked why it was not possible to immediately amend legislation to force goods traditionally transported by rail, such as timber, grain, coal and ore, off the roads and onto rail in regions where a parallel rail network existed.
Responding, Manyungwana said the run-down state of the rail network meant this was not possible.
"You can't just wake up and amend the (National Road Traffic Act) to shift from road to rail. You would have a problem, come the compliance and the readiness of the railways.
"Let's deal with the inefficiencies of the railways before we make that pronouncement. We could do it tomorrow... but would the railways be ready?"
He said that rather than implement a "broad plan for the country" to tackle the problem, the department was planning a "big bang" intervention focused on the Durban-Gauteng corridor.
A total of 56 million tonnes of freight moved along this corridor last year, only 8% of it by rail.
Manyungwana said a road freight strategy was being developed.
"We're currently finalising what we call the road freight strategy, to begin to - whether you call it re-regulation, or whatever - manage the road freight space."
The department also planned to establish an integrated transport commission.
"This will be a technical platform to coordinate, evaluate and approve plans and investments of all the modes in the transport sector. It will also balance infrastructure spending."
He said a "rail policy" was also taking shape. A draft green paper was being drawn up by the department's top management.
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