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Voestalpine VAE SA (VAESA) Awarded a Prestigious Three-Year Contract by Transnet Freight Rail for Turnout Sets

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Pulane Tshabalala Kingston behind her desk South Africa

Leading provider of railway infrastructure solutions, VAESA, is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a significant three-year contract by Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) to manufacture and supply TFR’s demand for turnout sets and components annually.

This collaboration is a testament to VAESA’s commitment to delivering high-quality railway products and services that enhance South Africa’s rail network.

TFR’s decision to award VAESA with this game-changing contract from a rail network infrastructure perspective, underscores the company’s reputation for excellence and innovation within the railway industry.

“We are delighted to have been selected by TFR for this significant contract,” says Pulane Tshabalala Kingston, VAESA’s Chief Executive Officer.

“This partnership between ourselves and TFR aligns perfectly with our mission to provide cutting-edge railway solutions that contribute to South Africa’s transportation infrastructure progress. Our team is dedicated to delivering products of the highest quality that meet the stringent standards set by TFR.”

Local Production a Boost For The Economy

The turnout sets and components for this project will be manufactured at VAESA’s state-of-the-art Isando facility in Johannesburg.

The facility holds a unique history, as it was acquired 26 years ago by voestalpine Railway Systems, part of the voestalpine group, a distinguished Austrian-listed metal company renowned as the unrivalled leader in turnout technology globally. In 2021, Mirai Rail Corporation, a black woman-owned company, acquired a controlling interest in VAESA.

“As the only facility of its scale in sub-Saharan Africa, our Isando facility stands as a testament – not only to the company’s dedication to advancing railway infrastructure and technology on the Continent, but also to our commitment to local manufacture in South Africa,” says Tshabalala Kingston.

“In this regard, it is important to note that our facility has the capacity to comfortably meet both TFR’s demand in terms of the awarded contract, as well as our other customers’ demands. We have gone to great lengths to ensure the security of supply for our customers, as we understand how important this is.”

“It is noteworthy that this is the first substantial turnouts contract to have been successfully awarded in the last five years – and explains TFR’s significant maintenance backlog.

This award is an important and positive step forward by TFR, which will go a long way to resolving cycle time issues, creating jobs, bolstering the revenues of users on the rail network and ultimately contributing to our overall economic growth,” continues Tshabalala Kingston.

Turnouts are a critical component of modern railway infrastructure. They let trains change tracks smoothly, without needing to stop.

Turnouts allow trains to be re-routed to avoid congestion, delays, or maintenance work. Additionally, rail turnouts enable the creation of sidings, which are essential for freight trains to pass each other on single-track lines.

Empowering Communities & Driving Economic Growth

According to Tshabalala Kingston, the significance of the contract goes well beyond VAESA, casting a positive light on the entire perway industry.

“This award heralds a much-needed turnaround that will breathe new life into various facets of the industry – including job prospects and the livelihood of downstream suppliers, who provide essential components like nuts, bolts, chairs, and fishplates. The positive impact of this award extends across the industry, as it revitalises not only VAESA, but also the network of companies that support its operations.”

Already, VAESA has supplied TFR with 18 complete turnout sets. These were installed in July this year during the annual shutdown of the coal line that runs from Lephalale in Limpopo, through Mpumalanga, to the Port of Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal.

The turnouts were installed on the Ermelo, Vryheid, Ulundi and Richards Bay lines. As of January 2023, the coal line had a number of clamped turnouts, which hurt the ability of coal mining companies to evacuate their export coal.

Replacing 18 turnouts has been heralded as a game-changer, significantly improving cycle times and overall turnaround time in the TFR Ermelo yard – ultimately halving the overall cycle time.

“The awarding of this contract and the successful engagement and participation in the yearly coal line shutdown, through collaborative efforts with various stakeholders, serves as undeniable evidence of what is possible when all stakeholders come together with a common purpose, ” concludes Tshabalala Kingston.

“It benefits the manufacturing industry at large and users of the various rail corridors. Equally important, is that it will increase tariff revenues for Transnet – given the greater operational efficiencies achieved, allowing for more volumes to be transported between the coal mines and the Port of Richards Bay. This impact of the award cannot be underestimated – it has the capability of contributing to the re-awakening of the South African rail renaissance.”

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Unitrans launches Centre of Excellence to enhance African supply chain solutions

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Operating cost efficiencies and safety – both driver and vehicle – are primary considerations for any logistics or freight company and Unitrans, a forward-thinking company dedicated to providing value-added supply chain solutions across the continent, moves this to a new level with the launch of its newly upgraded Centre of Excellence (COE).

“The launch of our upgraded COE marks a significant milestone for Unitrans and the industry as a whole,” says Jacques Greeff, Executive of Solutions at Unitrans. “We are thrilled to unveil this state-of-the-art facility that will drive value creation and operational excellence for our clients across Africa.”

The modern supply chain is driven by ‘big data’ with information coming directly from trucks on the road, fleet management systems and other services. The COE collects, analyses this data and provides real-time solutions and information to all relevant departments, as well as to drivers on the road – for example, instant route changes to avoid traffic jams and the like.

By harnessing the power of technology through the COE, Unitrans is able to process large-scale data into actionable business intelligence.

“Our focus is on empowering our clients with real-time insights and predictive analytics that drive informed decision-making and enhance overall operational performance,” remarks Greeff. “Through our centralised platform and data-driven approach, we are unlocking new possibilities for supply chain optimisation and cost efficiency.”

Unitrans is committed to developing bespoke solutions to provide optimal results for its customers. The company’s commitment to excellence extends beyond technology and data analytics. Its team of industry experts brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the table, ensuring clients receive best-in-class solutions tailored to their specific needs.

“We believe that the future of supply chain management lies in the integration of data-driven insights and advanced technology,” continues Greeff. “Our COE is designed to be a game-changer, offering our clients a competitive edge in a rapidly evolving marketplace.”

Greeff describes the COE as an enabling tool that serves to optimise operations, mitigate risks and enhance safety and security measures – ultimately contributing to the increased efficiencies of our customers’ supply chains. Some of the tangible benefits of the COE include fleet optimisation, reduced standing times and an overall boost in vehicle efficiency.

Whilst none of these concepts are new, the Unitrans COE uniquely balances risk mitigation imperatives and efficiency targets with sustainability objectives.

Predictive analytics

Predictive analytics means leveraging historical and real-time data to forecast future outcomes. By analysing large-scale data sets, businesses can gain valuable insights into patterns, trends and potential risks, allowing them to make informed decisions and mitigate operational challenges effectively.

In the context of a logistics business, predictive analytics can revolutionise risk management practices by identifying potential issues before they escalate, reducing operational risks and improving operational cost efficiency significantly.

Through the continuous analysis of data related to factors such as weather conditions, traffic patterns, equipment maintenance and driver behaviour, transport and logistics companies can proactively address potential problems and optimise their operations for efficiency, safety and sustainability.

“Ultimately, with the integration of advanced predictive analytics tools and large-scale data analysis, it is conceivable the supply chain industry could not only reduce operational risks, but potentially eradicate them altogether,” says Greeff.

This transformative approach has the power to improve the way supply chain businesses operate, ensuring smoother operations, enhanced safety standards, and ultimately, a more sustainable and reliable supply chain ecosystem.

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JC Auditors prompts Easter Road Safety Campaign

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South Africa has historically faced alarming road safety challenges during the Easter holiday period. According to past statistics, road accidents and fatalities tend to spike significantly during this time, highlighting the need for heightened awareness and proactive safety measures. According to Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga, 225 people died on the roads over the four-day Easter 2023 long weekend in 185 fatal crashes.

This is an almost 40% increase on the number of deaths in 2022. According to the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), the number of fatal crashes increased by 33% between Easter 2022 and 2023, with North West and Northern Cape recording decreases of 57% and 25% respectively in fatal crashes. The highest percentage increase was in the Free State at 125%, followed by Kwa-Zulu Natal at 67%.

As a prompt to the road transport industry, JC Auditors (JCA) are encouraging the road transport sector to consider initiating Easter road safety campaigns in the context of their business operations. The industry is being encouraged to consider simple, innovative ways to keep safe driving at the forefront during this high-risk period. With the holiday season approaching, it is crucial to avoid becoming immune to the messages of road safety campaigns and instead focus on engaging and impactful methods to remind drivers of the importance of safe driving.

“These campaigns need not be formal and big events – although the bigger corporates may opt for this – but a simple safety talk, a few impactful posters, a voice-note to the drivers, a quick reminder by the fleet controller. This can make a difference to at least one life,” says Yashen Naidoo, JC Auditors’ RTMS Lead Auditor.

More than 80% of road accidents are due to driver behavioural issues. Therefore, changing the mindset, attitude, and focus of drivers is crucial in reducing road accidents and fatalities. “From the RTMS audits conducted, we have found that distracted driving, travelling at unsafe speeds, and not maintaining a safe following distance are key contributors to road accidents,” comments Naidoo. “Drivers need to adjust their driving behaviour to suit prevalent road conditions, including high traffic density, road construction sites, wet roads, poor visibility, and damaged roads.”

Certain routes, such as the section of the N3 between Pietermaritzburg and Hammarsdale, pose an extremely high risk to drivers due to narrow lanes with temporary barriers. A minor lane deviation, a moment of distraction, or travelling at an unsafe speed can have catastrophic results. Commercial fleet operators need to raise awareness among their drivers about such high-risk routes and the need for extra caution.

The N3 Toll Route has seen a significant increase in the number of trucks over the past decade, mainly due to the transfer of freight from rail to road. On average, 7 000 trucks move thousands of tons of goods on the N3 every day. Given the high risks, commercial fleet operators need to seriously consider innovative means of raising awareness in our collective efforts to reduce road crashes and fatalities.

As part of the collective effort to stimulate practical road safety initiatives, JC Auditors (JCA) has made a free “Easter Safety Basket” poster available to prompt commercial fleets to start taking steps to promote safe driving. The poster which can be shared with drivers may be downloaded from JC Auditors. “By working together and taking little steps, we must believe that, despite our poor road safety record, we can make a difference!” concludes Naidoo.

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Road Freight Association revs up for annual conference at Arabella Hotel, Golf & Spa

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Political Analyst Ongama Mthimka

The Road Freight Association (RFA) is gearing up for its annual conference, which this year takes place in the picturesque town of Hermanus in the Western Cape. The three-day event, held from May 24 to 26 at the Arabella Hotel & Spa, will bring together key stakeholders, thought leaders, and professionals from the road freight industry for networking, innovative ideas, learning, and relationship-building.

RFA CEO Gavin Kelly.

Promising to be a melting pot of knowledge and collaboration, attendees can look forward to a dynamic conference agenda featuring engaging panel discussions and insightful presentations. “The conference is a highlight on our calendar,” says RFA CEO Gavin Kelly. “It offers a pivotal platform for industry to come together to share and create dialogue that propels our sector forward.”

With television presenter Jeremy Maggs anchoring the event as MC, the keynote address at the conference is traditionally delivered by the Minister of Transport – and this year the address will centre around the conference theme, “Changing the Rhythm of Trucking.” Joining the Minister is a line-up of distinguished speakers including political analyst Ongama Mtimka, logistics expert Professor Jan Havenga, and Athena Executive Director, Devon Palanee.  Additionally, RFA CEO Gavin Kelly and RFA chairman Penwell Lunga will give insights into the RFA’s vision for the year.

Adding an extra spark to the proceedings, attendees can look forward to the enlightening presence of self-proclaimed political activist Evita Bezuidenhout as she shares her unique perspectives on South Africa’s political and social realities.

In addition to the conference programme, delegates can explore an exhibition and truck display, providing interactive engagement with cutting-edge technologies, industry advancements, and innovative solutions. Golf enthusiasts are invited to bring their clubs for a round at Arabella’s esteemed golf course.

“We look forward to welcoming industry at the conference as we celebrate the backbone of our nation’s economy – the road freight sector. Without Trucks, South Africa stops. Let us convene, robustly discuss issues affecting the industry, share insights, and propel our industry forward together,” says Kelly.

Registration for the conference is now open on the RFA website. Take advantage of the opportunity. Look out for the early bird offer.

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