Given that the Umfolozi Flats is a low-lying, flood prone region, access to the area by heavy vehicles is problematic. For this reason the pioneer farmers in the 1920’s recognized the need for an alternative system to transport the sugarcane from the farms to the sugar mill at Umfolozi, and established a narrow gauge rail system run on a co-operative basis.
The company’s current tramline operations infrastructure includes some 87km of track and loop lines, which enables the sugarcane growers on the Umfolozi Flats to deliver their sugarcane, from their farms in an efficient and cost effective manner, to the Umfolozi Sugar Mill.
The rolling stock comprises three 25 ton locomotives, two 16 ton locomotives and 1 300 trucks with an average payload of 5 tons each. An additional 25 ton locomotive is operated and maintained on behalf of the Umfolozi Sugar Mill.
The system, operates on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week, during the milling season, (generally from mid April to mid December each year) and is managed from a control room.
On a daily basis, two locomotives deliver empty trucks to the growers loading points at or near their farms, collect trucks, which would have been loaded, by each individual farmer and return with these to the marshalling yard. Another locomotive then moves the full trucks from the marshalling yard into the mill yard where the sugar cane is tipped out and the empty trucks returned into the system and the cycle re-commences.
The system is managed in accordance with the requirements of the Railway Safety Regulator and is subjected to a risk assessment and renewal of the operating permit on an annual basis.
The transport cost to farmers comprises a fixed (R/ton) and variable cost element (R/ton.km) according to the distance from the growers loading point to the mill. The tramline transport cost is generally considerably less than the equivalent road transport rate on a per ton per kilometre comparison.