Transnet is to operate 200-wagon trains between the Mpumalanga coalfields and Richards Bay Coal Terminal. These 30% longer units will enter service at the same time as a new scheduling system is adopted to improve reliability and reduce turnaround times. Locomotive cycle times will fall from 58 hours to 41 hours, while the wagon cycle will drop from 63 hours to 48 hours.

Now, the challenge is to fill this additional capacity. In the past, Transnet could handle 75mt (million tonnes) a year, but to date the most moved has been 69.2mt, as demand for thermal coal has dropped in line with reduced economic activity worldwide.

The ability to run longer trains is a result of building rail sidings at individual coal mines long enough to handle the new block trains, which previously had to be assembled in shunting yards. Going forward, it will no longer be necessary to sub-divide any of the trains, two of which will operate each day. This means that capacity is now in the order of 81mt per year, while Richards Bay can handle up to 91mt. The prediction is for around 1.85mt a week to be exported through the port, representing a 30% increase.