Minister Peters fails on rail policy…
In a written reply to Parliament on the whereabouts of the promised Green Paper on rail policy, transport minister Dipuo Peters told her questioners that such a document which has the intention of outlining South Africa’s rail policy was to be presented to cabinet in November. GCIS statements for cabinet meetings for November and the final cabinet statement in December 2014 made no reference to any such submission having been made – alternatively, the minister might have failed to have it put on the agenda. The country therefore went into Christmas recess once again without an established government policy on both freight and passenger rail transport matters, worrying both industrialists, investors and, not the least, built environment planners.
Just talking together
A draft Green Paper was first submitted to cabinet a year ago but cabinet instructed that more consultation on the proposals was necessary, particularly interchange between the transport and public enterprises departments. The portfolio committee on transport stated that policy on freight rail upgrading and infrastructure development was unclear, plans for commuter and long-distance passenger services confused and no clear picture had emerged on Transnet’s promised policy of structural re-organisation. Subsequent to this, the department set up a national rail policy steering committee to oversee the consultation process and introduce the required changes to policy. It has also divested itself of a number of non-core assets but no clear picture has emerged in statements on the promised policy of giving direction on the privatisation of branch lines.
Since time began…
According to the minister at the time, cabinet’s concerns had also involved the adoption of a standard gauge, private sector participation and economic regulation. Subsequently, DoT indicated that standard gauge has been selected as the most suitable gauge for the South African rail network and as a result a final revised Green Paper was tabled before the steering committee in October 2014. Nothing has emerged. In the absence of any agreed policy, particularly to meet the proposed idea of rail freight re-assuming its dominant role over road transport in the light of the deteriorating national road picture, a number of developments have indeed taken place with regard to the purchase of diesel and electric train stock, signal systems upgrades and station re-building and passenger coach rolling stock manufacture. Nevertheless, no clear picture has emerged on the road ahead with regard to the freight/road picture, branch line privatisation, commencement dates for full long distance passenger services nor satisfactory plans and targets expressed on domestic commuter rail services.
All said before
Jeremy Cronin, when deputy transport minister, told Parliament in April 2011 that by establishing a local manufacturing base for the new rolling stock, benefits would ensue by creating a substantial number of local jobs. He added that as a result of the redevelopment of rail engineering capacity, skills that have been lost over decades of underinvestment in the local rail engineering industry would be recovered. The then deputy minister also said, “We are currently (2011) in the Green Paper phase with the primary objective of preparing the way for effective stake holder engagement. We are poised to reverse the decline in our critical rail sector that began in the mid-1970s and gathered pace in the late 1980’s.” In April 2015 therefore the country will be the fourth year of waiting for South Africa to outline its rail policy, “a system critically in decline” according to minister Cronin.
Recent update from Maties
A few months ago, a most important paper on rail transport, now in the in the hands of DoT, was published and out into the public domain by Dr Jan Havenga, director: centre for supply chain management, department of logistics, Stellenbosch University, who led a team of transport logistics experts to complete this erudite and informed report. The report is entitled “South Africa’s freight rail reform: a demand-driven perspective” and opens with a definition of government’s responsibilities in rail transport matters. “The role of the government is, primarily, to facilitate the development of a long-term logistics strategy that optimally equilibrates demand and supply through ‘anticipation’ of the market character.” “The definition of a national network of road and rail infrastructure and their intermodal connections will flow from this, presupposing neutrality across modes by taking full account of all relevant social, environmental, economic and land-use factors.” “This ensures that the mix of transport modes reflects their intrinsic efficiency, rather than government policies and regulations that favour one mode over another. The strategy is subsequently enabled by a clearly defined freight policy, a single funding regime for the national network and, lastly, the establishment of appropriate regulatory framework.”
Volume of freight critical
The report notes that “the American Trucking Association (2013) forecasts that intermodal rail will continue to be the fastest-growing freight mode in the next decade. Only the very busiest railway networks, which can exploit the density potential of volume growth, are likely to generate sufficiently high financial returns to attract substantial risk capital in long-term railway infrastructure.” “The Association of American Railroads as well in 2013 also highlights the impact of density on efficiency, revenue and, ultimately, the ability to reinvest.”
Lacking in market intelligence
Dr Havenga says, “The failure of South Africa’s freight railway to capture this market is attributable to a lack of policy direction regarding the role of the two modes (road and rail) in the surface freight transport industry and according to the Development Bank of Southern Africa, caused by the absence of sufficient market intelligence to inform policy.” He goes on to confirm that “one of the key requirements for an efficient national freight transport system is better national coordination based on market-driven approaches.”
“To avoid the ad hoc policy responses of the previous century, which led to sub-optimisation, increasing complexity and decreasing end-user quality, the pressing reform issue for South Africa, therefore, is agreement on the design of an optimal freight logistics network based on a market-driven long-term strategy that holistically addresses the country’s surface freight transport requirements.” Dr. Havenga’s final comment in the report, only a few weeks old, states that South Africa’s freight task is expected to treble over the next 30 years, with further concentration on the long-distance corridors. He points out that the country desperately needs a profit-driven market related core rail network to serve industry and manufacturing, as well as a developmental-driven branch line network to serve rural development. Other articles in this category or as background http://parlyreportsa.co.za/transport/minister-comments-taxis-e-tolls-road-rail/ http://parlyreportsa.co.za/finance-economic/prasa-gets-its-rail-commuter-plan-started/ http://parlyreportsa.co.za/uncategorized/transnet-says-freight-rail-operations-coming-right/ http://parlyreportsa.co.za/uncategorized/rail-is-departments-main-focus-in-year-ahead/