IRON ORE mining conglomerate Kumba is reported to have agreed in principle to assist Spoornet in a public-private partnership deal that will help fund badly-needed improvements to the 861 km Sishen - Saldanha iron ore line, which is electrified at 50 kV. The line carried around 21 million tonnes of ore last year, but to keep pace with demand, further improvements are essential; the aim is to boost capacity to 38 million tonnes a year by 2010.

In a separate development, Spoornet lines totalling 2434 route-km which are not currently maintained may be sold, leased or concessioned, Public Enterprise Minister Alec Erwin has told South Africa’s Parliament. Parent organisation Transnet, said Erwin, is currently considering a test case for leasing three closed lines ’for the promotion of community-based tourism and job-creation purposes’. He attributed the under-utilisation of branch lines to depopulation of rural areas and said Spoornet would identify ’business opportunities’ for some routes.

In the meantime, South Africa’s first railway privatisation adventure has come to a sad end. The 122 km Alfred County Railway Co was liquidated on August 2 following an application by Spoornet to the courts. According to Spoornet, which retained ownership, ACR owed it R3m.

ACR lasted 17 years, battling stiff road competition. Freight consisted largely of wood products, with some steam-hauled tourist trains that ironically carried record loads in the weeks preceding liquidation. The South Coast Steam Co has been formed to try and save the 610mm gauge line. n