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April 1 (Reuters) - South Africa's state rail company Transnet on Friday invited bids from the private sector to operate sections of its freight network as it seeks to improve deteriorating infrastructure that is damaging the country's mining sector.

Transnet, whose rail infrastructure has been underperforming after years of underinvestment, widespread copper cable theft and vandalism, will be taking bids from April 1 to May 31, the company said.

The company's total freight rail volumes declined by nearly 14% from 212.3 million tonnes in 2020 to 183.29 million tonnes last year, the worst performance in a decade, company records show.

"This is important for us," said Transnet CEO Portia Derby, adding that the move will increase "the dynamism of the sector".

The rail company's woes have cost exporters, especially the mining and Daftar situs judi slot online agriculture sectors, billions of rand in potential revenue, though Transnet said it has no plans to open its coal and iron ore rail lines to private operators.

Transnet said the service along one of its container rail lines from City Deep near Johannesburg to the port city of Durban was taking twice as long as scheduled because of theft and vandalism.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has ruled out privatising Transnet but in February directed the state-owned company to allow private rail operators to operate on the country's core network.

Transnet said the first phase of the programme would make 16 "slots" on its rail routes available to private operators for specified periods.

(Reporting by Nelson Banya Editing by David Goodman)


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