The Bechuanaland Railway opened in 1897 between Mafeking (present day Mafikeng) and Bulawayo, a 780km railway of which 640km lies in the territory of present day Botswana. The railway was built to connect the British colony of Cape Province (present day South Africa) with the then new protectorate of Rhodesia (later Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe). The gauge chosen was 3ft 6in (1067mm), to enable through running with the existing railways of Cape Province.
This railway, together with a few short branches opened in the 1970s and a longer branch from Francistown to Sua Pan (175km) opened in 1992, make up the present day Botswana network. The main line remains open, although its importance as a through route declined with the opening of more direct routes between South Africa and Zimbabwe in the late 20th century. Passenger services operate between Lobatse, Gabarone and Francistown.
In 2014, construction began on a new road and rail bridge across the Zambezi between Botswana and the town of Kazungula in Zambia. The bridge is expected to be complete and opened for road traffic in 2019, with rail connections following later. This would provide a new direct connection with the Zambian rail network.
Longer term, ambitious proposals exist for other railway projects; the 1500km Trans Kalahari Railway would run from Lobatse to Walvis Bay in Namibia, while a separate 1100km railway would run from Serule via Zimbabwe to a new port at Ponta Techobanine, south of Maputo in Moçambique.
Flag image from CIA World Factbook