The project - a joint venture between Transnet Freight Rail and RailRunner- will see a test train of lorry trailers on rail bogies begin running on the Cape Corridor between Johannesburg and Cape Town in the first half of next year.

The RailRunner system - a container trailer chassis with conventional wheels for running on road and a dedicated bogie for rail operation - will enable road hauliers to focus on the “last mile” part of the logistics chain where rail cannot operate.

As well as helping Transnet in its stated aim to attract more traffic from road to rail, the deal could also clear the way for private-sector businesses to get involved in rail transport. While the tractor units and trailers are already privately owned, private operators would also own the RailRunner bogies.

Transnet will supply the locomotives and operate the trains as part of its general freight service. A typical RailRunner train would consist of 40 trailers although overseas experience has shown that consists could operate with up to 200 trailers.

Transnet says a bimodal service would offer its customers “a complete logistics solution” that combines the strength of both road and rail transport.

Local industry is also expected to score on the deal as the RailRunner bogies would be manufactured in South Africa, in line with Transnet’s localisation requirements.