PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: Sandra Baetsen
CONTACT DETAILS: +27 79 877 3777 / firstname.lastname@example.org
DURATION: Two years
PHI-1 CONTRIBUTION: R200 000
LEAD INSTITUTION: Fresh Produce Exporters’ Forum
BENEFICIARY: All fruit sectors
Rail freight can provide many potential benefits to the South African fresh fruit export industry, such as a competitive advantage over fruit exporting countries like Chile and New Zealand. It can alleviate congestion in port cities and terminals, resulting in fewer delays and enhanced productivity. Increased rail usage will lessen road destruction and reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. It can reduce operational costs, since a single freight train is able to carry the equivalent amount of fruit that normally requires the use of 32 road trucks.
Railway challenges and industry collaboration
Fresh fruit is a perishable product that should be transported in refrigerated (reefer) trains that are capable to maintain the cold chain without breaks. The service should be fast, efficient and reliable. For rail freight to be a viable alternative, the existing South African railway system should be upgraded and modified for fruit export usage. To address the challenges involved in transforming the current railway situation, the Fresh Produce Exporters’ Forum (FPEF) initiated the Tonnage off Tar project, led by Sandra Baetsen. An industry forum was also established to assist in achieving project goals.
- Tonnage off Tar was coordinated through regular interaction with Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA), Transnet Port Terminals (TPT), Transnet Freight Rail (TFR), the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), the Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) and other relevant role-players.
- Media liaison, workshops and conferences helped to promote and increase rail usage for fresh fruit. Media coverage included an Agri-tv inset on Letsitele citrus.
- Suria Singh, senior manager of the TFR port and rail interface, made the rail initiative for fresh fruit a top priority in the 2009-2010 season. A dedicated TFR team coordinated and monitored fruit trains, which resulted in limited delays, better turnaround times for trains, higher safety measures and the smooth running of offloading in harbours.
- The Belcon depot in the Western Cape became a reefer container hub.
- Reefer train lines for table grapes were introduced from Paarl, Hex River and Kakamas to the port of Cape Town.
- One citrus exporter did a successful trial run from Johannesburg (City Deep) to Durban. Overall, the citrus industry increased its rail usage significantly – ambient fruit trains replaced the work of more than 800 road trucks, and over 700 reefer containers were railed to ports. When the Tonnage off Tar project ended in March 2010, the logistics manager of the Citrus Growers’ Association took over citrus rail developments.
- Tonnage off Tar created awareness and promoted rail transport for the fresh fruit industry. Despite several successful initiatives, the project ended with a few disappointments. Just as rail usage for citrus gained momentum, strikes within the Transnet group in 2010 caused a virtual standstill in ports and rail freight declined. It was also unfortunate that the TFR did not appoint someone, as requested by the FPEF, to continue driving the fruit rail initiative.
- If the project is reintroduced, it can increase productivity throughout the entire industry.