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World’s most expensive fuel arrives in Gauteng

Piped from Durban to Gauteng, first few litres “cost” R23.4bn.

JOHANNESBURG – Transnet CEO, Brian Molefe on Wednesday tapped  the first few litres of fuel from the new R23.4bn multi-product petroleum pipeline from Durban to Gauteng.

The pipeline, Transnet’s biggest single investment so far, was finished on time, if not on budget. It is a masterpiece of engineering that is largely invisible, as it is buried.

Molefe said it was a “legacy project that has an expected life of more than 80 years, probably 100 years, and should ensure that Gauteng does not run out of fuel soon”.

The line consists of 550km of pipe, three pump stations (at Durban, Maritzburg and at the base of Van Reenen’s Pass) a huge tank farm and “distribution centre” with 160km of pipe at Jameson Park near Heidelberg. It will be powered by Eskom but there are stand-by generators of 3.5 MW at each of the pump stations just in case.

The decision to build dates back ten years when it became apparent that the old Durban-Johannesburg pipeline was inadequate and corroded.

Initially a 16-inch line was proposed but the present government ordered the gauge to be expanded to 24 inches. The new line brings to 3 800km the distance covered by Transnet Pipelines.

The line had to be built under 49 rivers, including the Vaal, which had to be temporarily dammed after two wet years in the interior.

It “sensitively” crossed 481 wetlands.  At Natalspruit, out of consideration for a large wetland, special construction was undertaken.  The pipeline was concrete coated in situ to overcome buoyancy. The concrete-coated line was then pulled over a 1km section before being sunk into a specially prepared trench at the bottom.

A 1.5km section was passed under the Uncle Charlie’s spaghetti junction without disturbing traffic at all. The project was delivered in spite of heavy rains and copious snows.

While Molefe, as CEO, did the honours today, he has been aboard Transnet for a short time. Charl Mőller, CEO of Transnet Pipelines has worked there since 1966. He is especially proud of his new baby. Neville Eve was the main Transnet supervisor of the project.

Group Five and Spiecapag were the main contractors, though many of SA’s best engineering firms were also involved. Hall Longmore made the pipe, Arup and WorleyParsons were project managers.

Some 75% of the project by cost was locally supplied. Completion will aggravate the work shortage in SA’s construction industry.

It was phase one that was opened today. There is still some work to be done to complete tank farms in Gauteng but Molefe was confident there will be no further cost escalations.

Safety and care of the environment added significantly to cost. On most pipelines, only 10% of welds are inspected. On this 100% were X-rayed. “

Intelligent pigs” travel up and down the pipeline monitoring the pipeline wall, pressures and picking up leaks before they occur. Less intelligent pigs clean the pipe walls and separate different types of product in the line.

Each wetland was crossed with special care. At the terminal, special provision was made for the rare Giant African Bullfrog.

The tank farms are equipped with containment dams and multi-million foam-based fire fighting equipment. The probability of fire, said Eve, is miniscule as it is designed out of the system.

Initially the system will carry only diesel but eventually it will carry five different products.

Transnet is on a roll. On Monday it took delivery of 43 GE locos built at Transnet’s own Koedoespoort workshops. This week Molefe will sign a contract for the construction of a new railway line through Swaziland to shorten the distance of the Richards Bay coal line.

Some statistics:

  • Km of pipeline:  550 of 24 inch pipe from Durban to Gauteng, 160km of 16 inch pipe inside Gauteng
  • Altitude gained:  1 600m at Van Reenen’s Pass, about 1500m at terminal
  • Capacity: 3 ml a day, which theoretically could replace 1 000 road tankers a day
  • Pressure in pipe: 100 bars
  • Litres of “dead stock” in the system at any one time: 148km
  • Speed of fuel movement: 6km/h
  • Km of wetland traversed: 100km
  • Jobs generated: 600 permanent, 12 000 during construction
  • Artisan trained during construction: 2 100



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