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Transnamib freight train
A Transnamib freight train on the line between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay.

The first railway in what was then German South West Africa opened in 1895 from Cape Cross to Swakopmund, a distance of some 13 miles (21km). It was a 2ft (610mm) gauge line constructed for the transport of guano.

The first two public railways opened in 1899 from Swakopmund. One, built by the British Government, ran to the British enclave of Walvis Bay. The other, constructed by the State Northern Railway, ran to Karibib, being the first section of a line to Windhoek. Both lines were constructed to 600mm gauge.

The first 3ft 6in (1067mm) gauge line opened in 1905. The 600mm gauge lines were converted to this gauge between 1910 and 1915. The wider gauge allowed greater carrying capacity, and eventual through traffic with South Africa.

Namibian Railways of the present day are a generally well maintained network serving most major population centres in the country. There is an international connection with South Africa, used by freight services and luxury cruise trains. There is no regular international passenger service.

In 2012, a new line opened from a connection with the existing network at Tsumeb to Oshikango on the border with Angola. This is planned to connect with a proposed railway in southern Angola, ultimately allowing a through connection via the existing Angolan network to Zambia.

The Trans-Kalahari Railway is a proposed heavy haul freight railway between Walvis Bay and Lobatse in Botswana. It would include the upgrading of 640km of existing railway between Walvis Bay and Gobabis, and the construction of approximately 860km of new line from there to Lobatse. In 2014, the governments of Namibia and Botswana signed an agreement for its implementation, but little progress has been made, partly because of a global decline in the demand for coal, which would be its principal traffic.

In 2022, a feasibility study was completed for the 772km Trans-Zambezi Railway Extension, from a connection with the existing network at Grootfontein to Katima Mulilo near the eastern end of the Caprivi Strip. It is planned eventually to extend to Livingstone in Zambia.

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Photo image by Diego Delso from Wikimedia Commons