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Boosting Coal Exports in South Africa: Reviving a Key Partnership with China

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Boosting Coal Exports in South Africa: Reviving a Key Partnership with China
Boosting Coal Exports in South Africa: Reviving a Key Partnership with China

Transnet, South Africa's state-owned rail and ports operator, is eyeing a significant increase in coal exports to ports following a record decline last year. The decline in shipments, which dropped to around 50 million metric tons, was attributed to various challenges, including workers' strikes, floods, cable thefts, and vandalism of vital infrastructure that plagued Transnet's operations. However, Transnet sees a potential solution that could propel coal shipments to about 81 million metric tons if a crucial partnership with China's CRRC E-Loco is restored.

Reviving the CRRC E-Loco Partnership

The impasse between Transnet and China's CRRC E-Loco has had a substantial impact on the country's coal exports. Resolving this dispute could unlock the potential to move approximately 18.5 million metric tons of coal per year. The lack of locomotives has been a significant hindrance, prompting producers like Thungela Resources and Exxaro Resources to store excess fuel at their mines.

Paving the Way for Increased Capacity

Transnet Freight Rail CEO, Sizakele Mzimela, believes that securing an agreement with CRRC E-Loco will pave the way for substantial growth in capacity. The goal for this year is to rail about 60 million metric tons, with an ambitious target of reaching 74 million metric tons by March 2024. In the long term, Transnet aims to achieve an impressive 81 million metric tons by 2026.

The Role of CRRC E-Loco in the Equation

If the Chinese locomotive deal is restored, Transnet could benefit from 159 idled locomotives within a span of six months. This boost in resources would significantly improve the efficiency of coal transportation to ports.

The Transnet-CRRC Dispute

The rift between Transnet and CRRC originated from a canceled supply contract involving 1,064 locomotives from four suppliers, including CRRC. The contentious 54.4 billion rand ($3.04 billion) contract was deemed unlawful by the South African company, leading to repercussions from CRRC. In retaliation, CRRC withheld locomotives and spare parts, severely impacting Transnet's capacity to transport bulk commodities to ports.

A Path to Resolution

Thankfully, both Transnet and CRRC have expressed their willingness to resolve the dispute, opening up the possibility of restoring the partnership. However, for CRRC to operate in South Africa once again, they need to reach agreements with the country's central bank and tax authorities.

Unlocking the Potential

With the potential revival of the Transnet-CRRC E-Loco partnership, South Africa's coal export industry could witness a transformative resurgence. Increased capacity and improved transportation infrastructure would not only benefit Transnet but also the nation's prominent coal producers. The ability to move larger quantities of coal efficiently would strengthen South Africa's position as a significant player in the global coal market.

In conclusion, a harmonious agreement between Transnet and CRRC E-Loco holds the key to unlocking South Africa's coal export potential. By addressing past disputes and securing a mutually beneficial partnership, the nation can overcome logistical challenges and propel its coal exports to new heights. The coal industry's revival promises significant economic benefits, showcasing South Africa's capacity to be a formidable contender in the international coal trade.


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