State-owed rail operator Transnet Freight Rail (TFR), formerly Spoornet, said on Wednesday that only 60% of its trains were departing and arriving on time, but that it was making “steady progress” in this regard.

CE Siyabonga Gama said that the utility had come from a low service level base, where it “didn’t even measure” such statistics.

He commented that previous practice at Transnet Freight Rail meant that a train could arrive “within a day or two” of its scheduled time, but that this was “not the way to do things”.

One improvement that TFR had made was that it had reduced the average journey along its busiest route, between Johannesburg and Durban, from 22 hours to between 15 hours and 16 hours, Gama stated.

“The kind of service that customers are looking at is availability within a defined window of operation,” he said.

“We need to make sure that the notion of time – being there at the expected time – that we keep improving on that.”

The lion’s share of Transnet’s R78-billion capital investment programme would go towards modernising its rail unit’s ageing infrastructure in order to improve its service delivery and efficiency to its customers.

“We are beginning to invest and will be able to deliver much more reliable assets,” Gama said in an address at a conference in Johannesburg.

MARKET SHARE

TFR was working to win transport market share from the road, which it had lost in the past.

Road transport had grown by more than 50%, while rail volumes had declined by 20% in South Africa since 2003, Gama detailed.

“It is imperative to lessen the burden on road infrastructure,” he said, adding that rail transport was also effective in reducing port congestion.

STATE FUNDING

Meanwhile, asked what level of investment government should be putting into the rail freight sector, Gama said that the State should ensure that this was “at least enough to balance” the funding it gave to the road transport sector.

He noted that countries such as the US were already doing this.