Moving Freight from Road to Rail

In this three-part series, we discuss considerations pertinent to the movement of freight in a road-to-rail system

Like several African countries, Zambia is serviced by main railway lines with few “branch” lines connecting the mining and manufacturing industries. The country’s new Railways (Transportation of Heavy Goods) Regulations compel heavy goods transporters to move 30 percent of bulk cargo from road to rail. There is a growing call for other nations to follow suit.

The legislation has not been without its critics, however, with the lack of rail connectivity to industry being one of the greatest concerns.

To address this, Zambian Railways Limited (ZRL) has proposed the construction of logistics hubs to connect industries with the rail system. Such road to rail nodes, or R2R Hubs, could be the answer to rail systems lacking “branch” lines.

They would serve as collection points for bulk and break-bulk freight, and should be designed to serve import and export functions.

Their focus should be on the collection and distribution of rail-friendly and competitive freight, including bulk and large break-bulk commodity-based freight.

Various factors must be considered to make the hubs effective.

Location is critically important. Considerations include:

• Transport interconnectivity and development, time or distance travelled prior to goods being delivered to the R2R Hub;

• Provision for possible future expansion;

• Functionality of activities in the hub, cargo capacity, skilled labour availability, operating costs and fees to be charged for use;

• Security to protect high-value cargo;

• Provision for the capital investment required to build the relevant infrastructure;


Understanding supply and demand (the availability and volumes of products to and from the hub);

• Research of the market to identify customers in proximity to the hub;

• Knowledge of government policies and legislation affecting the hub; and

• Environmental considerations such as the terrain, geography and environmental-protection regulations.

Infrastructure considerations include:

• Common design: While each hub will have its own infrastructural characteristics, it would make economic sense to have many of the critical elements follow the same design and construction methods.

• Adequate connectivity and accessibility by road, and proper connection to the main line by a branch line or siding(s). These must be able to deal with the volumes and demands of the targeted cargo.

• Storage: A basic rule of logistics is that the handling of goods is kept to a minimum to reduce costs and risk of loss or damage. Facilities would need to be constructed with both bulk and break-bulk goods in mind. Where goods are moved in bond, facilities must meet bonded warehouse requirements of customs legislation.

• Sufficient sidings for multiple-unit trains to be in the hub at any one time. There may also be a need to allow for the loading of more than one unit train at a time.

• Appropriate weighbridges in the security precinct. Ultimately the rail or hub operator would be responsible for goods entering the hub. Trains leaving the hub would also need to be weighed.

• Power must be sufficient and continuous. Consideration should be given to developing the hub along “green” lines using as much renewable energy sources as possible.

• Constant and suitable telecommunications is imperative.

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is one of the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publications in southern Africa.
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