S.African miners turn to trucks as rail declines

STORY: This is what mining companies in South Africa have resorted to - trucking coal to ports in order to meet a surge in European demand since the war in Ukraine started.

The switch to trucking bypasses the deteriorating rail infrastructure that companies said costs billions of dollars in revenue.

Poor maintenance, a lack of spare parts for trains, copper cable theft and vandalism have disrupted state logistics firm Transnet's freight rail services, causing coal and iron ore exports to fall in recent years.

Clifford Hallatt is the chief operating officer at Canyon Coal, a joint venture between miner Menar and commodity trader Mercuria.

“April, March of 2021, we started experiencing issues with Transnet, availability of their trains, them being able to give us sufficient amount of trains required to move our product from the mines, from this mine and the other mines within the Menar group."

Trucking coal costs about four times more than rail, according to Hallatt.

At Canyon Coal's Khanye Colliery, it takes about 80 trucks - each carrying over 37 tons - to replace one average Transnet train, making it unsustainable financially as well as boosting emissions and clogging roads.

Transnet Freight Rail Chief Executive Sizakele Mzimela:

“We are aware that there has been an increase in the number of trucks, of coal trucks now running into the ports and that’s not a good situation. And for me it’s not a good situation for the country more than anything in terms of the damage to the roads and congestion on the roads as well.”

The record high coal prices means miners can absorb the cost of trucking, for now.

Demand for coal has shot up since the war in Ukraine started.

The EU has announced a ban on Russian coal and mining companies in South Africa say they are fielding calls from European countries looking for imports.

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