The Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) has reopened the Gqebera to Cape Town route, including the Cookhouse-Blaney railway line following extensive rehabilitation work that was recently carried out. The Cookhouse-Blane line has been unused for the last 5 years for freight and in 2018, it was closed by the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) due to various maintenance concerns.
The Gqebera to Cape Town route, which is the George to Oudtshoorn section, was closed in 2018 following some refurbishment work to replace damaged wooden sleepers. In November last year, it was reinstated after all the necessary work was completed.
Since then, travelling between Gqeberha and Cape Town, which is via Swartkops, Kariega, Klipplaat, Oudtshoorn, George, Mosselbaai and Bellville, has resumed as normal.
Covering 200km, the Cookhouse-Blane line traverses through three local municipalities, two district municipalities and a metro municipality namely the Blue Crane, Raymond Mhlaba, Amahlathi local municipalities; Amathole and Sarah Baartman District Municipalities and Buffalo City Metro Municipality.
The rehabilitation work that has been carried out has been inspired by the renewed interest shown by the business community to transport certain commodities by rail between Gqebera and East London. It also forms part of Transnet’s strategy to develop the region.
Due to interest in the use of the line, a significant R26 million has been used to refurbish the rail infrastructure, to a carrying capacity of 18 tons/axle. This infrastructure has a volume projection of 300 000 tons per annum. It is envisaged that it will provide an important in-bound transit on rail between the East London IDZ and the Coega IDZ, as well as create an escape route for the Gqebera main line in case of any incident between Cookhouse and De Aar.
The opening of the branch line will contribute to much-needed increased volumes and revenue, enable production, trade and rural access to markets, thus enhancing regional and global connectivity and integration. This initiative has created short-term employment for communities through which the line traverses. To date, a total of 100 direct jobs were created during the process of rehabilitation.
A loaded container test train ran on the newly refurbished branch line on 30 June 2021 successfully. The other potential traffic for the Cookhouse-Blaney line are:
• Beer and Fast Moving Consumer Goods from Gqebera to East London and region
• Cement from Gqebera
• Automotive components to and from East London
Objectives of the Cookhouse-Blaney line:
• To contribute to lowering the cost of doing business in the Eastern Cape Province.
• To enable economic growth and ensuring security of supply through the provision of appropriate rail infrastructure in a cost-effective and efficient manner
• To provide an enabling environment for emerging miners in the province.
• To stimulate the agriculture sector
• To focus on densification of freight on the rail line
• To create a competitive link to the rest of the country
Its impact on the Eastern Cape Province:
• Reduction of the operational costs in the transport system;
• Migrating rail friendly cargo from Road-to-Rail, thus reducing national and provincial road maintenance costs
• Resuscitation of the economic and social activities in the small marginalised towns
• Economic development and growth in the agriculture, mining and transport sectors
• Support and enable the growth and development of the Eastern Cape manufacturing sector and grow the Province’s export footprint;
• Reduction of the provincial carbon emissions
• Creation of direct and indirect job opportunities
• Skills development