The Harrismith Logistics Hub (HLH) was identified in 2006 as one of five key transport projects to be undertaken by government. Tristan Wiggill checks in on the progress.

Harrismith is geographically well placed within the heavily used Durban-Johannesburg transport corridor. The freight corridor forms the backbone of South Africa’s freight transportation network and is vital in facilitating economic growth for the country and the Southern African region.

Planned upgrades to the corridor led to talks of the formation of the HLH, a project that falls under government’s Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiatives (AsgiSA) programme. It was and still is, believed that the HLH would improve the Durban-Gauteng corridor, enhancing regional freight supply and contributing to local economic and social development.

In July 2007, a resolution was taken to put a portion of land in Hardustria under moratorium and it was reserved for the development of the hub. The land is adjacent to the N3 and the moratorium still stands today.

With the launch of national government’s Strategic Infrastructure Project (SIP2) in July 2012, through the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC), the HLH became clearer on the radar screen of government’s national agenda, and the intervention on the N3 bypass and the solution thereof became a mandate of the Durban-Free State-Gauteng Logistics and Industrial Corridor.

Prime position

Harrismith is situated almost midway between Johannesburg, the largest industrial complex on the continent, and Durban, the largest general cargo and container port in Africa.

It is within just-in-time trucking distance of the Gauteng and Durban metropolitan areas and is located on the N3 major national toll road. Furthermore, it is either directly or indirectly linked to the N5, N1, N6, N8, N9, N10, N11, and N12.

It is also placed at the intersection of the N3 and the N5 national routes, the latter running 200 km westwards, through Bethlehem to Winburg, where it intersects the N1 route to the Western Cape. Traffic between Durban and Cape Town, as well as traffic between Durban and the western and north-western areas of South Africa and adjoining countries, utilises this route.

The N5 (Harrismith-Winburg corridor) provides a natural transportation corridor to the eastern seaboard for traffic from the industrial areas of the Free State – such as Bloemfontein, Welkom and Bothaville – and Lesotho, all of which are within approximately 300 km of the town.

Extensive development of facilities and services required by trucking companies and their staff have been formed, due to high levels of road freight transport activity on the national routes through the town.

The Durban-Gauteng corridor consists of key developmental components including the port of Durban, the Durban-Gauteng road corridor and the Durban-Gauteng freight rail corridor.

Feasibility

“The current feasibility study for the Harrismith Hub, which is a public-private sector participation process, is underway and is expected to be completed in June 2015,” says Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters.

“Through the SIP2, a resolution was taken that a task team be appointed to deal with this long-outstanding N3 De Beers Pass and Harrismith Hub matter and an alignment towards a win-win solution be found and reported back by June/July 2015. This task team process has started,” she says.

A pre-feasibility study was carried out in 2007/8. At the time, the hub was intended to become a cargo handling point from road to rail between Durban and Gauteng.

However, it was determined that getting the cargo off the road and on to rail in Harrismith would not benefit the value chain, but merely increase costs within it.

Logistics

Currently, goods harvested in the Free State are moved to intermodal hubs, such as those in City Deep, Johannesburg, where the goods are processed and packaged for national distribution and export. Most processed goods entering the Free State also come from Johannesburg.

A new purpose for the HLH was considered by the Free State government, which would see the HLH become a distribution hub of commodities and bulk, with an inland customs clearing point of goods on the route between the harbours on the south coast and Gauteng.

An intermodal hub on the corridor will allow containers to be transported to Harrismith from the port of Durban, where they would be opened and cleared, and the contents distributed throughout the country.

Another consideration would be to establish an agro-processing park in conjunction with the HLH. From a quality preservation perspective, it would be better for goods harvested in the Free State to be processed straight away in the Harrismith area, instead of being processed hours later in Johannesburg.

The provincial government and the Free State Development Corporation say they are in an advanced stage of establishing a food processing industrial park in Harrismith. This park is intended to host a number of companies and will accommodate logistics service providers, warehousing, cold storage, and manufacturing facilities.

Rail

The Free State is very well supplied with rail infrastructure, and Harrismith has a direct electrified 1:50 graded line that connects to the Natcor main line at the Danskraal (Ladysmith) junction. To the west, the line from Harrismith links to the Free State and Cape rail systems.

The Kroonstad-Bethlehem-Ladysmith main line runs a distance of 333 km, with Harrismith located 232 km east of Kroonstad and 101 km west of Ladysmith. The railway is single-track and electrified.

From Johannesburg, the rail link goes along the N3 up to Cornelia, where it stops as a dead end. If the rail line between Cornelia and Warden is linked up and allowed to run along the road corridor, it would reduce the direct costs of transport between Johannesburg and Durban, and provide seamless interaction between road and rail on the most important freight corridor in the country.

This would not only result in an immediate decrease in transportation costs, but it would also stimulate rail transport as opposed to road, and allow accessibility on a far wider scale from rural areas within the eastern Free State.

With a growth projection of 38% by 2020, the Durban-Gauteng corridor will experience severe pressure on both road and rail systems. It is for this reason that implementation of large-scale upgraded infrastructure projects has been announced covering the total length of the corridor.

The overriding argument for the development of a central logistics hub in the Free State is a need to eradicate traffic congestion caused by heavy haulage transportation on the N3 national route.

It is possible for the HLH to provide multinodal transportation logistics (air, rail and road) capabilities. There is little doubt that importers, exporters, and shipping companies would be interested in such a development; but government, both national and provincial, first has to clear the apparent administrative backlogs and, frankly, get on with it.

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