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Railways in

South Africa

The first recorded railway in South Africa was a quarry line at The Bluff, near Durban, which operated from 1856. Just under 1 mile (1.5km) in length, it was unusual in being constructed with plain wooden rails on which wagons with flanged wheels ran, thus distinguishing it from earlier wooden railways in England which used flanged rails. The gauge was 4ft (1220mm). Wagons were drawn by oxen.

The first public railway opened in 1860 between Durban and The Point. This short railway was built to standard (1435mm) gauge and was subsequently extended as far as the mining areas of Witwatersrand. However, later railway development in South Africa was mainly at a gauge of 3ft 6in (1067mm). This choice of gauge was in part conditioned by a grandiose plan sponsored by the prominent entreprenuer and politician Cecil Rhodes for a transcontinental railway from the Cape of Good Hope all the way to Cairo in Egypt. Although the scheme was never realized, a number of other countries in East Africa adopted the same gauge, a decision which greatly facilitated international traffic.

The present day network covers most of the country, although passenger services are notably absent from the area west of the main line from Cape Town to Kimberley and Vryburg. The majority of lines are 3ft 6in (1067mm) gauge, although around 314km of 2ft (610mm) gauge line remain in operation. The main network has international connections with Botswana, Lesotho, Moçambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. All the connections carry at least some freight. The connection with Namibia is used by the Namibian rail passenger operator StarLine to reach Upington, around 150km inside South African territory, although there are no other rail passenger services in the area. None of the other international connections have regular passenger services, though most are traversed by one or more of the various luxury cruise trains.

For several years, negotiations have been taking place to award operating concessions to private operators on several Transnet lines.

Main Line and Commuter Railways

Concessionary Operators

Concessions have been agreed in principle for the companies below to take over operation of the lines from Transnet.

Private Railways

Luxury Cruise Trains

Tourist Railways

Industrial Railways

This list is not intended to be exhaustive.

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