Johannesburg - South Africa's coal exports from the Richards Bay terminal rose 3.3% to 65.5 million tonnes in 2011, the terminal's data showed on Monday, as improvements on the rail lines leading to the port started to pay off.
State-owned logistics group Transnet has been investing heavily to upgrade its lines and to invest in new wagons and locomotives, but export figures are still far below the coal terminal's expanded capacity of 91 million tonnes.
Coal producers in South Africa - including Anglo American [JSE:AGL], BHP Billiton [JSE:BIL]
, Exxaro [JSE:EXX]
, Optimum Coal and Xstrata - have been eager to export more coal to meet rising demand from India and China, but have been limited by bottlenecks on the lines leading to the port.
Last week South Africa's coal exporters provided a slightly lower 2011 export estimate of 64.6 million tonnes, a rise of 1.9%.
Transnet has said it will take until at least 2015 to be able to carry 81 million tonnes to the Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) each year.
The group also plans to free up an additional 14 million tonnes of capacity on the coal line by moving non-coal cargo to a new line via Swaziland.
Coal producers have begun to look beyond South Africa and explore export routes via Mozambique and Namibia, although the rail links or expansion at the relevant ports are still in the planning stage or would involve higher costs.
Coal stocks at the terminal stood at 3.3 million tonnes at the end of December, RBCT added.