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Thieves Pose Threat to World Bank-Funded Coal Rail Project for Majuba Power Station



Thieves threaten the Majuba power station coal rail project

Thieves threaten the Majuba power station coal rail project, part of a World Bank Group-funded initiative to enhance train access in South Africa’s coal-rich region.

A report by News24 says the development of a 68-kilometre route between Ermelo and Eskom’s Majuba power station began over a decade ago, aiming to replace the reliance on coal transportation by trucks. The completed rail line promises cost-effectiveness, faster delivery, and a more environmentally friendly approach, as highlighted by the World Bank.

However, ongoing criminal activities targeting the country’s rail system have severely impacted the project’s timeline. Since April 2022, there have been eight instances of railway infrastructure theft, according to Eskom. Vandalism and damage from copper cable theft have caused the project’s completion to regress from 97.5% in 2021 to 87%.

Copper cable theft may not be the sole motive for these criminals. Eskom has acknowledged that intelligence assessments indicate the railway lines are targeted to facilitate increased demand and opportunities for truck usage, further exacerbating the challenges faced by the project.

The Majuba railway line falls under the World Bank’s Eskom Investment Support Project, which aims to improve power supplies while supporting long-term carbon mitigation. The Majuba project, with a total cost of $402 million (R7.5 billion), received $132 million (R2.4 billion) in financing from Eskom, and the World Bank extended a loan of $270 million (R5 billion), which is currently being repaid.


Also read: South Africa Can Extend Operation of Coal-Fired Plants Says Climate Committee

Although the broader project is still in progress, specific vulnerabilities have emerged. Eskom’s declining market share has significant financial implications for the utility, as highlighted in an EISP report. Additionally, poor performance at the Majuba station has led to a reduction in coal consumption.

In recent months, Eskom has experienced a surge in criminal activities, including violence and theft. The World Bank acknowledged that sabotage had become a primary challenge faced by Eskom across its generation fleet. These incidents more than doubled in 2022 compared to 2021.

This latest obstacle adds to the existing challenges faced by Eskom, which is already struggling to meet the electricity demand in South Africa. The country has been grappling with blackouts since 2008. However, the severity of outages has reached record levels this year, lasting up to 10 hours daily. Even the deployment of soldiers at Eskom stations has failed to curb crime effectively.

Transnet is also grappling with widespread theft and violence. Per the company’s statistics, the theft of miles of cable from its electric rail operations occurs daily. Last year, Transnet had to restrict the number of trains running between coal mines and Majuba due to infrastructure damage and the tragic killing of a security guard.


Despite the setbacks, Eskom remains committed to completing the Majuba project by the end of March 2024. The power utility initially expected to commence the project’s operations in 2016, highlighting the significant delays and challenges faced along the way.

Also read:

Positive development for private rail in South Africa

Picture: Facebook / Ferryn Igora

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