• Lighten the load

    While rail freight is more cost-effective over long distances, road transportation remains the most convenient and flexible means of moving cargo in Southern Africa.

    Lighten the load

    If you bought it, a trucker brought it. This saying may be oversimplified, but most items in any given city in Africa – from the food in the supermarket and the clothes we wear, to office supplies at work and furnishings and appliances at home, down to the fuel for our cars and the building material for our houses – will have been carried by a truck somewhere along the supply chain. Even if something is transported by sea, air, pipeline or rail, it will often be put onto a heavy vehicle at some stage during the transfer from one network to the next, on its way from the place of origin to the destination.

    The University of Stellenbosch’s Logistics Barometer South Africa 2015 refers to the national freight-flow model to estimate how many times each ton of freight is handled. ‘The 781.7 million tons of freight transported via road, rail, pipeline, coastal shipping and conveyor belt in 2013 were each handled an average of 1.92 times, totalling 1 500 million observed tons. Therefore, in matters relating to market share, it is more valid to consider ton-kilometres than tons.’

    In 2013, South Africa transported some 361 billion tons per kilometre (ton-km) of freight. Of this, road transport accounted for 221 billion ton-km and rail general freight, 39 billion ton-km. The dedicated coal- and iron-ore export lines contributed 90 billion ton-km while the remaining 11 billion was moved by pipelines, conveyor belts and coastal shipments.

    In other words, 61% of transport activity in South Africa happens on the road network while rail carries 36% – an increase from the 29.5% rail share in 2011 and 30% in 2012 as reported in the 10th State of Logistics Survey for South Africa 2013.

    Road transport will remain the most convenient and flexible mode of moving cargo from A to B, especially in metropolitan areas. But rail is seen as a cost-effective and ‘greener’ alternative over long distances and for heavy bulk loads, particularly in rural areas and on the major transport corridors.

    Across Africa, governments are moving rail-friendly cargo from the road to rail – heavy, uniform and bulk freight is transported over distances greater than 500 km, as on Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) coal- and iron-ore lines.

    This still involves a road-haulage component, to ensure connectivity between the consigner, which dispatches the freight; the rail hubs; and the consignee, which receives the freight.

    To promote collaboration rather than competition, TFR signed separate memorandums of understanding with Imperial Logistics and Barloworld Logistics in 2013.

    Most items in any given city in Africa will have been carried by a truck somewhere along the supply chain

    The resulting integrated intermodal service intends to ‘combine the rail core competency in long-haul rail transportation with the logistics service provider’s expertise in road freight logistics, distribution and end-to-end value chain management’.

    There is still a lot of scope for rail to improve. ‘As much as we’d like to use rail, in my experience it’s just not user-friendly and flexible enough for smaller businesses. So we rely on road transport even in areas that fall within the rail network,’ says Carl Watermeyer, co-owner of African Lumber Traders, a Cape Town-based enterprise that imports exotic wood from Africa, Brazil and Malaysia.

    Most of his long-distance consignments travel by road and sea. He says: ‘In remote areas, as in the DRC, it can take a timber truck three days to carry iroko wood from the sawmill to the main port, Matadi. There it gets containerised and shipped to Cape Town harbour.’ A road contractor then picks up the containers to deliver them to the warehouse.

    ‘In the future, we will have to move increasing freight volumes to cater for growing populations in Southern Africa. Most of this will have to be transported by road as rail can’t cope with those volumes,’ says Paul Nordengen, the research group leader of network asset management systems at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

    As in many developing countries, the heavy vehicle issues in Africa are primarily about dealing with the ‘culture of non-compliance’ on the road and its resulting problems.

    ‘Truck crashes are not isolated incidents but happen every day,’ says Nordengen. ‘The problem goes beyond severe injuries and fatalities. When a truck rolls over and blocks motorway lanes for several hours, it impacts seriously on the traffic flow, which in turn is not good in terms of increased carbon emissions and lost economic productivity.’

    One way to address the causes of heavy vehicle crashes – such as reckless driving, speeding, overloading, driver fatigue, lack of vehicle maintenance, load securing and false licences – is by voluntarily implementing a set of standards and monitoring the compliance.

    That’s the idea behind the Road Transport Management System (RTMS), introduced in South Africa in 2013. Nordengen, who serves on its national steering committee, says: ‘We guard the aspect of “self-regulation”, which is industry-led and often more effective than the government-enforced heavy-vehicle regulation.’ The government supports the RTMS scheme, which encourages consignees, consignors and road-transport operators to implement a set of standards (such as driving hours and speed, driver wellness, vehicle-maintenance standards, load safety and documentation) to help preserve the road infrastructure, improve road safety, and reduce costs and carbon emissions.

    The number of RTMS-certified trucks and buses has increased from 74 in 2007 to almost 8 000 in 2015, with 154 accredited companies and depots across the country. Participating hauliers often pay reduced insurance and find it easier to win business contracts and bank loans because the accreditation indicates compliance and quality control of the trucks and drivers.

    ‘RTMS is not fancy stuff. It’s the basic 101 of transport,’ says Adrian van Tonder, head of business development at Barloworld Logistics, and chairman of the RTMS steering committee. ‘Barloworld started rolling out RTMS around 2007/08. We now have 31 sites with 950 vehicles certified in South Africa, with our remaining four sites being certified later this year.

    ‘RTMS has been critically important to our business. We can prove that we practice stringent adherence to legal payloads, speed limits and driving hours. Fatigue – drivers falling asleep at the wheel – is a major cause of crashes. It’s not just about training drivers how to drive a truck but providing lifestyle education by teaching them about nutrition and how to manage chronic diseases.’ He adds that RTMS offers a strategic advantage.

    Fewer overloaded trucks mean fewer crashes and less road wear, as overloading contributes to deteriorating road surfaces

    ‘We would like to expand RTMS beyond our borders, to the tripartite of COMESA, EAC and SADC,’ says Nordengen, who has held workshops in Namibia and Botswana, and drafted standards that include cross-border operations.

    ‘We’ve seen huge benefits in the South African forestry industry, where Sappi and Mondi were among the first to adopt RTMS. As a result, overloading had been reduced to 0.6% by May 2015. The sugar industry has also seen a dramatic reduction in overloading, and in the coal-mining industry there were significantly fewer speeding incidents.’

    Fewer overloaded trucks mean fewer crashes and less road wear, as overloading contributes to deteriorating road surfaces, strain on bridges and increased costs related to road-maintenance. In turn, the road condition also affects vehicle maintenance and repair costs.

    ‘Some roads in Africa have deteriorated very badly,’ says Nordengen. ‘We have high road-quality standards in South Africa, but even here, many provincial roads have deteriorated, especially in the Free State and Mpumalanga.’

    He points out that trucks travelling on a ‘good’ road require on average ZAR0.96 per kilometre in maintenance and repair cost. A ‘fair’ road pushes the average maintenance and repair cost up by 30% to ZAR1.24 while a ‘bad’ road increases these amounts by 121% to ZAR2.11 per kilometre.

    ‘Smart trucks’ are another way of keeping road damage to a minimum. This type of truck is designed according to specified performance-based standards (PBS), which means it takes into account the on-road performance of a heavy vehicle and its stability during typical driving manoeuvres.

    Nordengen says: ‘PBS trucks typically have a 20% to 45% higher payload; they require fewer trips, which means reduced carbon emissions; and their tyre footprint causes less road damage.’

    Smart trucks have also proven their worth in terms of fuel consumption: while a typical 56-ton truck combination uses 55 to 60 litres per 100 km, some PBS vehicles have brought this down to 39 litres.

    So perhaps – in combination with intensive driver training and wellness education – the industry could be revolutionised with smart truckers driving smart trucks.

    By Silke Colquhoun
    Image: Gallo/Getty Images