130 CEO “PLEDGE” Initiative – Transport and Logistics Progress

By Steuart Pennington

CSIR Simulation helping to improve truck flow on N4 Corridor

A sophisticated simulation model, developed by a dedicated team at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria, is proving an important and very worthwhile tool in improving the flow of trucks on the N4 road transport corridor. These trucks, mostly loaded with export minerals, travel from the mines in the North-West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, to the port of Maputo in Mozambique.

The choice of the CSIR to develop modelling tools and systems to support national logistics on the N4 was a natural one considering the experience and expertise built up over the history of this 78-year-old institution, which is a national research council that also enjoys support from private business for much of its work.

Similar road traffic simulations were originally developed and used to improve coal supply chains to Richards Bay decades ago and were used again in preparation for the 1994 elections and more recently for supply chain optimisation.

In the case of the N4 corridor project, a “What If” analysis is undertaken for various modelling scenarios. This system highlights impacts down the line and in other areas without affecting real-time operations on the corridor itself. Subsequently, the revised system’s efficiency is monitored on an ongoing basis to see if there are any deviations and if so, why.

Congestion on South Africa’s major transport corridors remains the key factor affecting road transport. For instance, the average number of extra-heavy cargo trucks on the N4 daily is around 4 500, with around 1 600 of those carrying loads destined for export. This illustrates the critical need to cut travelling time and to speed up the border crossing processes, thereby lowering overall logistics expenses.

“It is gratifying that focused attention has been given to the processing of vehicles through the port of entry, while traffic management on the corridor is benefitting from the improved control of truck queuing,” commented Barbara Mommen, Corridor Specialist and participant in the National Logistics Crisis Committee’s (NLCC’s) Workstream 2.

Currently the transport and logistics sectors contribute about 10% to South Africa’s GDP, with transport alone adding 6.5% in 2021. Road transport is becoming increasingly more costly than rail, mainly due to continual fuel price increases (the transport industry’s fuel costs have increased with some 73% between 2021 and 2023), but the country’s rail challenges leave little option.

The establishment last year of the NLCC as a government structure with private business participation was an acknowledgment by the Government that the inefficiencies in the transport and logistics sector are costing the country around R1 billion each day.

Members of the NLCC agree that it is important that specific attention be given to prioritising bulk mineral exports, which comprise most transit exports from South Africa through the port of Maputo, and which are the major contributor to congestion at the Lebombo border post.

Four key objectives were identified to address the problems specifically encountered on the N4 corridor:

  • Improve the processing and flow at the Lebombo Border post.
  • Find solutions that will allow better management of congestion to create an improved flow of goods.
  • Improve security and safety on this corridor.
  • Build a bank of data and information to identify and better understand problem areas, and to proactively find and implement solutions as soon as possible to improve the situation.