Dry Ports – their growing role in international trade

Transnet Freight Rail

With rapid regional development of African port infrastructure and regional road corridors, the importance of inland multi-modal hubs is gaining traction. Increasing inter-African port competitiveness, with some countries happy to liberalize their economic trade engagements for increased foreign direct investment will put pressure on traditional emerging economies. In recent weeks there have been several public utterances concerning South Africa’s perceived demise as the ‘gateway to Africa’.

“If a gateway is supposed to be a transmission belt between global and regional markets and production facilities, the question should be whether South Africa can use its physical and material infrastructure to fulfil a connecting function between Africa and the rest of the world”, says Peter Draper senior fellow at the South African Institute for International Affairs. 

Global player General Electric recently chose Nairobi as its sub-Saharan hub – following companies like Coca Cola, Nestle and Heineken – and it based its decision partly, say trade academics, on South Africa’s unpredictable policy environment. With the rehabilitation of the East and West Coasts of Africa, some of it by resource companies needing to find more convenient export routes, trade patterns are starting to change in the region. In time, it is likely that Durban will be just one more port handling regional trade, rather than the main one.

A dry port is generally a rail terminal situated in an inland location with rail connections to one or more container seaports. Container freight trains run excursions between the seaports and the dry port, on a service timetable that is integrated with the schedules of the container ships arriving at the seaport.

Seaports have grown larger as world trade has increased, and they now lack space to expand and are restricted by congestion on the various routes into the port. While the access to the port from the sea may be highly efficient, with radar-guided systems for tracking the ships and sophisticated ship-to-shore facilities for speedy loading and unloading, land routes out of the seaport can be slow and congested.

The road and rail links are often too congested and inadequate to deal with the traffic from the port. This problem can be eased by a dry port consisting of rail and multi-modal terminals situated inland from the seaport.

In many instances, particularly in South Africa, port facilities are in close proximity to the center of the city, because historically the city grew up around the port. This means that road traffic both to and from the port has to make a circuit through the city along congested motorways or smaller roads. This problem can partially be overcome by the more efficient use of existing rail links to move the freight from the quayside to an inland dry port. The last two decades saw a decline in the ability of the rail service to meet increasing dry port to seaport needs. Over utilization of road transport not only deteriorates the roads but causes significant bottlenecks at sea port terminals.

The infrastructure available at the dry port is similar to that of a seaport in terms of the logistics and the facilities for importers and exporters. The dry port is equipped to handle cargo and transfer freight to warehouses or open storage.

Development of dry ports has become possible owing to the increase in multi-modal transit of goods utilising road, rail and sea. This in turn has become increasingly common due to the spread of containerisation which has facilitated the quick transfer of freight from sea to rail or from rail to road. Dry ports can therefore play an important part in ensuring the efficient transit of goods from a factory in their country of origin to a retail distribution point in the country of destination. Source: AllAfrica.com

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