South African railway network opens for private operators

Transnet announced that as of 1 April, private parties interested in using the South African railway network can apply for their preferred slots. Transnet is South Africa’s state-owned transport company, responsible for rail freight and rail infrastructure, among other things. The company’s decision to start selling slots is practically the needed step towards liberalising the South African rail freight market.

Despite rail being its logistics and supply chain backbone for decades now, South Africa has not yet modernised its rail freight market. Infrastructure management and operations are monopolised by the state-owned railway company, with many parties voicing their opposition.

For instance, the African Rail Industry Association (ARIA) has long been lobbying for the introduction of private operators into the network, while on their behalf, operators like Traxtion have expressed their interest in operating on the South African network. It seems that the government has listened to the bids for a more open rail freight market, and things are about to change.

Slots in two corridors

On 1 April, Transnet opened slots available for booking in two key rail freight corridors. These are the Container Corridor and the South Corridor. The Container Corridor is 714 kilometres long and links the port of Durban with the broader economic region of Gauteng, where Johannesburg and Pretoria, the country’s largest city and capital respectively, are located.

On the other hand, the South Corridor connects the Gauteng region with two other ports: East London and port Elisabeth in Gqeberha. Private operations in the two corridors will benefit the South African network by expanding comprehensive services in the country’s hinterland, decongesting the port of Durban, and boosting the transport of certain goods from the agriculture and automotive sectors.

In practical terms, interested private parties are now able to book their preferred slots in the railway network until 31 May. The bookings will be valid for two years up until 2024. The slots mean that operators will arrange the “temporary occupation of sections of the network to enable end to end passage of a train”. At the same time, Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) will retain ownership of the network.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is editor of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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