Transnet and its counterpart Eswatini Railways have formally called for potential funders, those who need to move freight, construction managers, and builders of rolling stock to get in touch – as the long-planned Eswatini Rail Link (ESRL) project inches towards breaking ground.
Late last week the state companies said they are looking for investors to help carry R29-billion in costs (from estimates done in 2016), construction partners, and companies that can commit to moving volume freight over the link.
That is a significant step, if not yet a firm commitment to a timeline, for a project that saw feasibility studies in the 1990s, was supposedly making progress in 2011, was in 2014 definitely due to be completed in 2017 – and then in 2017 was due to be presented to investors before the end of that year.
This time, say the state-owned companies involved, things are very nearly in place.
The project is due to see 150 km of new rail connect the eastern end of a South African line, at Lothair in Mpumalanga, connect with the western end of an Eswatini line at Sidvokodvo. The lines that run to those endpoints will also require an upgrade, the project says; 282 km worth of upgrades for Transnet, and 144 km worth of upgrades on the Eswatini side.
Most of Eswatini’s cargo comes from South Africa, mostly via road, and the new link could help change that, the ESRL project says. But more significantly, the new link would hook up to a north-south line that runs the length of Eswatini. Run a train from Mpumalanga’s coal fields to that junction and turn left, and it is soon in the major port of Maputo. Turn right instead, and it is soon in the major port of Richard’s Bay.
But though it is due to act as a backup route for trains carrying coal for export, the ESRL is being developed as a general freight line. Shifting 6.7-million tonnes of freight a year onto that line will help with congestion on the coal export link that runs from Mpumalanga to Richard’s Bay south of Eswatini, says Transnet. And it will be able to scale up, significantly, with up to 12 trains a day each up to 2.5km long.
Transnet is now in the process of buying some 500 hectares of land required on the South African side, while Eswatini Railways is securing about 700 hectares at its end, their combined project say.
They did not say when they hope to have those land parcels fully secured, or when they envisage actual construction to begin.
Expressions of interest close in mid April. EDITED BY: News24Wire