Rail transport and the economic competitiveness of South Africa : timeous delivery of goods and demurrage
Mathabatha, Dineo Mosimo Sandra
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Rail transport refers to the transportation of various commodities, goods and services traded as cargo and freight within South Africa and out of South Africa for export to the other Southern African communities (SADC region), the rest of Africa and other continents of the world. It also refers to the imports into South Africa from the regions mentioned. Competitiveness relates to a country or company’s available resources and supporting policies and regulations in place which allow them to compete and do business locally, internationally and globally while improving the country’s economy and the company’s profitability. There are different criteria that can be used to determine the level of competitiveness, depending on each company or country’s capabilities. In the past years, the progress and development of the South African rail industry has been neglected and this has resulted in the rail transportation not being used. Railway line maintenance has become a challenge and service delivery is below customer expectations. Road transport has better availability and reliability, which has led companies to prefer road transport for freight. The main objective of this study is to reach a detailed understanding of the views of freight rail transport consumers and the impact of rail transport on the economic competitiveness of South Africa. Another important objective is to present the study in a format that is easily understandable. The approach adopted for this study is quantitative and uses a survey research questionnaire which was distributed to freight rail transport customers and providers. The data collected from the questionnaire was submitted to a statistical consultant service at North-West University. The statistical consultant analysed the data using the SPSS statistics computer programme to arrive at the results presented in this study. The overall findings from this study are that companies that use roads to transport freight do so because of the unavailability and unreliability of the freight rail transport provider Transnet Freight Rail and that these companies opt for road transport because they use a ‘just in time’ (JIT) system whereby a small quantity of stock is transported continuously which Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) does not accommodate. These factors have resulted in TFR’s poor service delivery. Therefore, a market demand strategy has been initiated by TFR to improve the performance of the company. It is important to note here that freight rail transport should concentrate on improving service delivery and not only on increasing capacity. The research participants indicated that the TFR objective to move freight back to rail could be accomplished. This will lessen the burden and damage to South African roads and reduce traffic congestion and accidents caused by trucks on the roads. It will also increase employment opportunities and the country’s economic competitiveness while reducing transport costs. All these aspects will make a significant impact on the economy of the country.