“Ghost trains” yet another freight for Transnet

  • Transnet says it is investigating allegations that unregistered trains are conducting clandestine freight across the country.
  • The allegations point to corruption within the company and shady deals between third parties as the cause of the illegal freight.
  • The rail and port operator says there is no solid evidence to back up these allegations.

While it isn’t Halloween yet, there seems to be something spooky going on across South Africa’s seemingly abandoned rails. While “ghost trains” are usually the topic of fireside tales, the unknown, untracked trains plaguing the country’s public rail and logistics operator are much less ethereal and even more sinister.

On Tuesday Transnet said that it has launched a probe into the allegations that emerged about “ghost trains” operating across its rail network. These are trains that are operating and moving freight without authorisation.

SA News points out that it is in fact Transnet employees and third parties that are illegally operating the trains, as per allegations. This would not be the first time that such allegations emerged from the company. In the past Transnet executives like Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh have been linked to state capture.

Hundred-thousand tonne vehicles thundering across the country in an unscheduled and clandestine manner is definitely a safety concern for the government, but Transnet is hoping to put a stop to these alleged ghost trains to preserve its already-emaciated bottom line.

Apparently, these hidden freights are being arranged “off the books” between Transnet employees and third parties, pointing to corruption within the rail authority. This means that the parastatal is left out of any monies, and the deal stays between those implicated.

However, Transnet says that there has been no solid evidence to back up any allegations. “To the extent that the allegations are proven correct, Transnet will act swiftly. In advance, we appreciate the transparent collaboration of all involved,” it said.

Transnet, which also operates South Africa’s ports, has had a spate of bad luck in recent years. In 2021, an alleged Russian hacker group utterly paralysed the country’s ports for a few days when it struck Transnet’s IT systems with ransomware.

The operator has been managing a rail system on the precipice of total collapse. Despite government interventions to resurrect train operations across the country, and specifically across South Africa’s most economically active provinces of Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, much of the country’s rails are in states of disrepair and inoperable.

This stems from years of mismanagement, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic which seemed like the final nail in the coffin for the company.

On Tuesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa directed Transnet to “implement reforms swiftly and completely to turn around the crisis in South Africa’s logistics system” according to the Presidency.

Steps to be taken as part of the roadmap formulated by government include the upgrading of infrastructure across rails and ports, addressing security challenges, implementing reforms to enable private sector investment and ensuring that sufficient rolling stock is available to increase the volume of goods transported by rail.

“Despite the crisis facing Transnet we must acknowledge the important progress that has been made in reversing the damage that was inflicted during state capture and recognise that there are many dedicated and hard-working people in the company that are committed to restoring Transnet to its potential,” Ramaphosa noted.

[Image – Photo by Ginevra Austine on Unsplash]


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