TFR is a world-class freight transport company, transporting bulk, break-bulk and containerised freight on approximately 20 500 km of railway.

Transnet Freight Rail (TFR), the largest operating division of Transnet SOC, maintains an extensive rail network across South Africa that connects with other rail networks in the sub- Saharan region, with its rail infrastructure representing about 80% of Africa’s total. The company is proud of its reputation for technological leadership beyond Africa as well as within Africa, where it is active in some 17 countries. TFR operates using a scheduled railway philosophy; this encompasses operating trains in accordance with an Integrated Train Plan (ITP) that is appropriately resourced to optimise capacity through careful deployment of assets to extract efficiencies. The aim is to significantly improve operational efficiency and customer service delivery with the help of the following six business units:

  • agriculture and bulk liquids
  • coal
  • container and automotive
  • iron ore and manganese
  • steel and cement
  • mineral mining and chrome.

The company also has an international business arm, which is an interface between TFR, ports and SADC railways. It enables African regional development through integrated planning and infrastructure development with its over-border railway hubs and intermodal ports. It also coordinates and grows TFR’s activities in the neighbouring states and identifies new markets in an effort to extend the company’s operational footprint.

African regional development has led to the establishment of joint operating centres (JOC) with the strategic intent of enabling regional integration – to be achieved through the institutional framework of JOC in Maputo, Mahalapye and Bulawayo. The railway operators in the African region will execute the scheduled railway philosophy seamlessly, eliminating existing country boundary complexities. This will align the railway companies in each of these corridors in order to execute one unified railway system. The primary objectives are to achieve operational efficiencies and improve real-time communication in the African region. To give effect to TFR’s African strategy, the three JOCs will be operational by November 2013.

The very core of TFR’s business is in the movement of high-density cargo over long distances. It services a wide range of industries including, but not limited to, mining, coal, iron ore, manganese, steel, chrome, cement, granite manufacturing, agriculture, automotive, petroleum and chemicals.

The company has developed and is implementing a major new strategy, which is part of Transnet’s greater market demand strategy (MDS). The key element of the strategy is a shift of traffic from road to rail. In accordance with the strategy, the company has committed itself to railing more than 350.3 Mt of cargo a year by 2018/19, the financial year when the MDS will reach its maturity.

TFR has positioned itself to becoming a profitable and sustainable freight railway business, assisting in driving the competitiveness of the South African economy. Through investment, TFR will be able to optimise its capital portfolio, build a worldclass capital execution function and leverage capital procurement and localisation. TFR is a customer-focused railway company committed to delivering freight reliably.

Over the next seven years, TFR has been striving to grow its market share from 25 to 35%, transporting 350 Mt of freight and creating 10 232 jobs within the rail sector.

The expected contribution to the economy is a reduction of 6 200 trucks on the road per annum, 3.9 Mt less carbon dioxide per annum and an overall reduction of total logistics costs by between 4 and 7%.

Steel and cement

The steel and cement (SAC) business unit (BU) aims to improve customer service and operational efficiency to grow and sustain rail market share in bulk flows of inbound and outbound products. SAC BU encapsulates the steel, cement and lime industries within South Africa. Product services by SAC range from bulk coal, lime and iron ore to finished steel products and bagged cement.

Due to the cost and time sensitivity of the SAC BU, one of its specific strategies is the development and implementation of a market development strategy focusing on collaboration with the industry, in order to grow the outbound less than train load sectors (accessRAIL) of the business.

Furthermore, it is important to develop innovative investment models in order to extract private sector capital.

SAC is crucial to the economy of South Africa and cement is supplied to domestic markets and neighbouring markets such as Namibia, Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The largest South African consumers of steel products are the manufacturing sector at 56%, the construction sector at 27% and the mining sector at 4%. TFR is continuously focusing on developing and upgrading infrastructure within the growing SAC industry.

Mineral mining and chrome

Mineral Mining and Chrome focuses on the transportation of magnetite flows from Phalaborwa to Richards Bay; Broodsnyersplaas in Mpumalanga; and Maputo, Mozambique. Rock phosphate moves from Phalaborwa to Richards Bay and chrome/ferrochrome from Rustenburg to Witbank and from Steelpoort to Richards Bay. Granite is transported from Rustenburg to Richards Bay.


The Coal BU focuses on the transportation of export and domestic coal by rail to various destinations, including Richards Bay, Vryheid, Ermelo, Ogies and Welgedag. Export coal is transported from Mpumalanga’s 44 rich mines and descends from the Highveld through rural KwaZulu-Natal and terminates at the Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT). The 580 km long double line is bidirectionally signalled and fully electrified. Two 100 wagon trains are coupled to form one 200 wagon train at Ermelo, typically using CCL type wagons.

Through the domestic coal sector, the Coal BU plays a vital role in the transportation of requisite amounts of coal to Eskom and other industries to generate electricity for the country. Furthermore, the unit is responsible for exporting sizeable amount of coal to generate billions in foreign exchange through the RBCT, Maputo ports, Navitrade, Transnet Port Terminal in Richards Bay and Bulk Connection in Durban. This unit’s commitment in transporting coal (South Africa’s ‘black gold’) is in line with the company’s long-term MDS and aids in the bid to shift rail-friendly freight traffic from road to rail.

Iron ore and manganese

This BU’s focus is on the export transportation of iron ore and manganese. It operates in the Saldanha, Sishen, Postmasburg, Kimberley and Port Elizabeth areas. Iron ore is transported from the mines in the Northern Cape to the Port of Saldanha. Manganese is transported from the mines in the Northern Cape to Port Elizabeth and Durban harbours. Manganese for domestic usage is transported to, among others, Meyerton, Fairview, Clewer, Nelspruit and Cato Ridge.

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