Trains crucial for future of citrus exports

14 August 2023

By: Liana Mocke

A functioning and improved railway network is crucial for the future of citrus exports.

Mitchell Brooke, logistics manager of the Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA), says a functional railway is of paramount importance for the growth of citrus exports.

The citrus industry is moving ever closer to realising its potential to deliver around 206 million cartons by or shortly after 2027. 

The association recently examined logistics projects and divided the long-term crop yield estimation model into smaller parts to measure the growth potential of regions.

“Very interesting but also concerning information points to trends in growth in demand for transportation, capacity of refrigerated storage facilities, capacity of port container terminals, and refrigerated containers,” Brooke writes in the latest CGA newsletter. 

He says there is a significant need for further development in these four areas to support growing exports. “I especially want to focus the spotlight on rail transport as the most important one.”

An analysis of the transportation needs for each production region has been conducted by comparing weekly truck trips now with those expected to be necessary by 2027.

Brooke says regions with the highest growth will naturally have a higher demand for transportation. “Since road transportation is an open system, the supply and demand of transportation will affect all regions, unless fixed contracts exist. 

“For example, if we calculate the collective growth in demand from the northern production region, the weekly trips during the peak season will increase from 2,200 truck trips per week to over 3,000 trips (+36%) per week.” 

Another 250 trips per week will be required for cargoes that need to be transported at room temperature and 560 trips for refrigerated cargoes, mainly mandarins.

Trains will need to assist

“To keep the current demand for road transportation balanced during peak times in line with growth predictions for this region, a total of 18,000 pallets per week will need to be shifted from the northern regions to the ports using rail transportation,” says Brooke.

“Since refrigerated trucks are the only viable option for transporting citrus by rail, at least 900 refrigerated containers will need to be transported to the ports. This means approximately 20 train trips per week to Maputo, Durban and Cape Town.

“It is, of course, a massive undertaking, but there is no other choice, as we do not expect the supply of road transportation to be able to balance with the expected growth potential by 2027.”

Light at the end of the tunnel

Brooke says it is understandable that people will raise their eyebrows at the news that rail transportation will need to play a larger role, especially given the state of the railway network.

“But there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he writes. “The critically important railway line between Durban and Gauteng, commonly known as the freight corridor, is now open for participation by the private sector. The timing of this could not have been better. We have already heard from major logistics companies eager to participate.”

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