Digital exchange platform will make freight rail more efficient


A substantial percentage of all rail wagons in South Africa are empty when moving between destinations. In the SADC region, only a small percentage of rail capacity is being fully utilised. That is a huge amount of wasted and expensive space.

Empty Trips, a South African logistics innovator, plans to change this. It has a digital open exchange platform that is already addressing some of the biggest inefficiencies in road haulage – trucks returning empty from deliveries or standing idle waiting for backhauls. Empty Trips has now gone multi-modal with the inclusion of marketing empty rail wagons on the platform.

“Our aim is to do for rail what we are doing for road – making haulage simpler, more efficient, more visible and sustainable by filling empty spaces, in this case rail wagons,” says Andrew Crafford, Empty Trips Managing Executive. “We are a fully digital end-to-end logistics marketplace using algorithms to match shippers’ freight with the carrier’s capacity and allowing shippers to manage their contracts seamlessly and transparently.

“Our enhanced Empty Trips digital-freight exchange now includes the service where rail carriers can publish empty rail wagons on the platform which then provides the visibility for rail shippers to book space on the rail wagons,” adds Crafford.

Andrew Crafford, Managing Executive, Empty Trips

Rail in the SADC region is increasingly embracing deregulation, creating open access where private rail operating companies can buy slots on chosen routes of rail infrastructure owned by third parties. Even if only 10% of empty wagon space is filled, it means 10% more profit, as the fixed cost of moving a full train compared to one with empty wagons is the same.

Rail offers multiple benefits. With advances in wagon technology, wagon designs are light-weight skeletals, enabling the transport of heavier containers. They can also transport three containers instead of two, offering significant payload benefits. Train freight is also cleared pre-departure and the dangers and inefficiencies of border-post congestion are minimised.

A train uses nine times less energy per ton kilometre than a truck and is four times more fuel efficient. This results in 60-75% less emissions in greenhouse gasses. The potential efficiency of rail makes it environmentally friendly and capable of a significant contribution to the mitigation of carbon emissions. In addition, with rail, the number of trucks on roads is reduced contributing to decongestion and fewer road accidents. This is in keeping with Empty Trips’ philosophy and aim for a more sustainable future.

Empty Trips will initially target the Harare to Maputo and Ndola/Lusaka to Durban routes, primarily for export cargo. More SADC countries, more rail corridors and more kinds of cargo are expected to move from road to rail.

It is expected that changes in South African legislation will make it possible for Empty Trips to offer the marketing of wagon space for inland routes next year, in the same way it is now ready to do for cross-border rail freight.

“Rail will play a significant role in the logistics industry with the integration of digital solutions. As the logistics industry evolves, our platform offering will make this a beneficial and faster reality. We are pleased to be playing a role,” concludes Crafford.