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. In 2005 a proposal emerged for a new line to link Botswana Railways directly with those of Zambia, bypassing Zimbabwe. More recently plans have emerged for ambitious new 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.
The original line remains open, although its importance as a through route has declined with the opening of more direct routes between South Africa and Zimbabwe in the late 20th century.
Passenger services formerly operated on the main line but were discontinued in 2009. A new daily service between Lobatse and Francistown is planned for 2016.
Flag image from CIA World Factbook