Flag of South Africa

Railways in

South Africa

The Blue Train
Luxury cruise train The Blue Train departing from Cape Town, Table Mountain in he background.

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, Eswatini, Lesotho, Moçambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. In 2023, work commenced on an additional connection with Eswatini. All the connections carry at least some freight. There are no regular international passenger services, though many of the international connections are used at least occasionally by luxury cruise trains.

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

As part of an initiative by the African Union, a new high speed railway is proposed from Pretoria via Gabarone in Botswana to Windhoek in Namibia.

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.

And two others, unidentified at present.

Private Railways

Luxury Cruise Trains

Tourist Railways

Industrial Railways

This list is not intended to be exhaustive.

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