Freight companies concerned about highway upgrades

Freight companies concerned about highway upgrades

The South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) has announced an upgrade of the N2 on the 55 km stretch from Luvu River on the South Coast to eMdloti on the North Coast and the N3 on the 80 km section between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Commuters and freight companies have, however, expressed their concerns about the possible delays – in particular to the Spaghetti Junction interchange.

This will add to the existing road transport delays and port congestion. There is no doubt that if Durban is to retain its place as the premier container transit port for Southern Africa, access to the port has to be improved – the sooner, the better.

Freight companies in particular will have to plan for the probability of delays on the basis that in the long term it will mean that access to the port will be improved. The massive growth in containerisation along with capacity issues at the port have exacerbated the problem, but in the absence of alternatives, the various state, regional and local authorities have no choice but to proceed with the upgrades.

Road hauliers, freight companies, importers and exporters are already bearing the considerable costs of delays which have resulted in additional storage costs, additional standing time and far less efficient use of their trucks and depots. The shipping lines, container depots and port authorities have been trying for years to ameliorate the situation by improving their systems to ensure that cargo is only sent to the port when the container depots are able to receive it and ships are able to load it. Those steps, however, have not been able to keep pace with the growth in traffic and there are unfortunately no alternative routes into the Durban container terminals.

The problem – that the vast majority of container traffic used to be carried by train and is now carried by truck – is clear to anybody who uses the N2 and N3. Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) has been unable to respond to the market forces that have driven the vast majority of container traffic onto our roads. Had they done so, and if the port authorities were able to handle the cargo, the upgrades would probably not be necessary.

Those involved in the industry concerned about additional delays by the upgrades will no doubt look first to using inland depots, such as those at Cato Ridge, to stockpile cargo before delivering just in time to the port.

Secondly, shipping lines, TFR and logistics companies are likely to look to using ports other than Durban for their imports and exports. The additional costs will be passed onto the port users and ultimately the consumers, but those costs may be less than the additional loss caused by congestions arising out of the upgrade.

The upgrades are in the national and local interest, and do have to be effected. From a legal perspective, anybody suffering losses caused by the delays may have a claim against the responsible authorities. They would, however, have to show negligence on the part of those authorities or a breach by those authorities of their statutory obligations to provide infrastructure.

The only complaint that they may have is that the authorities should have started this process earlier, but the prospect that a court would find the authorities negligent for not doing so are remote. In the circumstances, those companies would be wasting their time and money in proceeding to court in attempting to recover losses caused by these delays.

Published by

Malcom Hartwell

Malcolm Hartwell is a director based in Durban. He is a master mariner and the team leader for transport and has been with Norton Rose Fulbright since 1994. He is a shipping lawyer and specialises in admiralty, international trade, marine insurance and all aspects of maritime casualties, in particular investigating the maritime aspects of cases involving salvage, collisions, grounding, flooding, fires, anchor dragging and cargo claims. He has been involved in most of the casualties in this region in the last twenty years.
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