Department of Transport: Smoothing out the Rocky Road

In his 2012 State of the Nation Address President Jacob Zuma pronounced South Africa’s direct need for social and economic infrastructure in Transport, Energy, Telecommunication and other sectors.

The transport sector has been highlighted by the government as a key contributor to South Africa’s competitiveness in global markets. It is increasingly being seen a crucial engine for economic growth and social development, and the government has unveiled plans to spend billions of rand to improve the country’s roads, railways and ports.

South Africa’s total road network is about 754 000 kilometres, of which over 70,000 kilometres are paved or surfaced roads. While the Department of Transport is responsible for overall policy, road-building and maintenance is the responsibility of the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) as well as the nine provinces and local governments.

DoT05The country also has an extensive rail network – the 14th longest in the world – connecting with networks in the sub-Saharan region. The country’s rail infrastructure, which connects the ports with the rest of South Africa, represents about 80 per cent of Africa’s total.

State-owned Transnet Freight Rail is the largest railroad and heavy haulier in southern Africa, with about 21 000km of rail network, of which about 1 500km are heavy haul lines. Just over 8 200km of the lines are electrified.

South Africa has also opened the door to private rail operators, with Transnet calling for expressions of interest from private sector companies to operate branch railway lines, or feeder lines, which comprise some 35% of the country’s national rail network.

In his 2011 national budget speech, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced an 18-year, R86-billion programme to upgrade the country’s rail transport infrastructure.

Overall there are 43 earmarked major infrastructure projects, adding up to R3.2 trillion in expenditure in the next 3 years. Through the 2010 FIFA World Cup Infrastructure lessons, Infrastructure Development projects have to be spearheaded to enable a massive infrastructure development to create more jobs, investment, accessibility and tourism.

Ben_MartinsOver the MTEF period ahead, approved and budgeted infrastructure plans amount to R845 billion, of which R262 billion is earmarked for transport and logistics projects. The Department of Transport through this Strategic Plan will oversee the implementation of Transport projects for sustainable infrastructure. During the Department’s Strategic Planning Session in January 2012, the department highlighted that will work hard in areas of Road Transport, Rail Transport, Road Safety, Integrated Transport Planning, Maritime Transport and Aviation Transport.

Ben Martins, Minister for Transport, acknowledged the challenges ahead: “The Department of Transport is charged with providing safe, reliable, effective, efficient and fully integrated transport operations that best meet the needs of freight and passenger users.

“The Department is also tasked with providing the infrastructure and services in a manner that is efficient and affordable to the individual and corporate users and also to the whole economy, whilst ensuring that we provide increasing levels of safety and security across modes.”

“No economy can thrive without developed road, rail, maritime and aviation infrastructure networks. No economy can develop unless its transport sector plays its part in facilitating the movement of people, goods and services throughout the economy.”

Among the projects that have been accelerated recently, the Department highlights the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link, an 80 kilometre rapid rail network, connecting Johannesburg, Pretoria and OR Tambo International Airport.

Gautrain’s 24 train sets of four rail cars each (96 rails cars in total) will travel at maximum speeds of 160km/hour, 18 hours a day, together making around 135 000 passenger trips a day. There will be 10 stations, three of which will be underground. The underground tunnel section will be about 14km long and up to 96 metres below the surface in some places.

The Department has also played its part in the development of the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system in Johannesburg, a project aimed at providing better public transport, reducing congestion on public roads, improving the environment and creating jobs. A crucial element of the Rea Vaya project is the reduction of the city’s public transport carbon footprint; the fleet is the most modern available, with sophisticated engineering to ensure carbon emissions are as low as possible. The long-term plan is for the Rea Vaya routes to cover 330 kilometres, allowing more than 80 percent of Johannesburg’s residents to catch a bus.

DoT04The Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), an initiative of the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL), encompasses the upgrade and construction of about 500 km of roads in the region. It will inject approximately R29 billion into the South African economy and approximately R13 billion into the provisional gross geographic product, creating nearly 30,000 direct jobs over its lifecycle.

The Department has also been closely involved in the ongoing development of the impressive King Shaka International Airport, one of the few green field airports in Africa and the world.

Of course the Department has expenditure and indeed oversees projects on a much smaller scale too and Martins’ comments look at the bigger picture: “This infrastructure Investment trajectory, a significant part of our country’s counter- cyclical approach to investment by the state, has been critical in ameliorating and shielding South Africa from the negative effects of the economic crisis that faced the rest of the world recently.”

Rail continues to play an important role in that journey and the Rail Programme is responsible for both passenger and freight infrastructure and operations. This responsibility is shared with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR) and Transnet.

Collectively the various bodies and Department have identified a number of key issues that will bring South Africa’s rail roads kicking and screaming into the 21st Century:

Rail assets have reached the end of their life cycles and there is a big need for acquisition of new rolling stock for PRASA and Transnet; the National Master Plan (NATMAP) recommends a long distance rapid rail system connecting Johannesburg to Durban, Cape Town and Musina; mining houses and provinces are proposing new rail lines with private sector players and collectively all stakeholders within the rail sector agree on the massive rail investment programme.

DoT03Road transport presents its own set of complications and the Department says that since 1994, Government has worked on more than 600,000 kilometres of new roads. The Gauteng Freeway Improvement Scheme for example, greatly reduced congestion and will continue to play a major role in transporting people between the two cities.

The maximum road network that SANRAL is mandated to maintain is 20,000 kilometres, which has been identified and will be amalgamated into the network. Rural roads in most of the Provinces have been upgraded and constructed through labour intensive programmes.

The Road Transport programme will be responsible for the co-ordination of road infrastructure and traffic regulation functions.

The Department has also begun the implementation of the Road Infrastructure Strategic Framework for South Africa (RISFSA), including the roll-out of an asset management system and the re-classification of the road network.

Martin’s team has identified four big challenges within the road sector which the Department will tackle over the medium term: ongoing and increased funding for roads and traffic management are needed; a reduction in the number of road fatalities; implementation of AARTO and capacity building for road infrastructure maintenance at both District and Municipal level.

Aviation work continues apace and the King Shaka Airport is of course open – this project benefitted from some of the R25 billion that the Department has invested in aviation over the past five years.

The Department of Transport is tasked with a monumental remit for improvement; it is imperative that society and business remember this will all take time.