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
- Transnet Freight Rail
national railway network, major freight carrier, with divisions:
- GFB Commercial general freight business
- Coaline dedicated 580km coal carrying railway from
Mpumalanga to Richard’s Bay
- Ore Line dedicated 861km iron ore carrying railway from Sishen
to the port of Saldanha
- Shosholoza Meyl long distance passenger
services; a subsidiary of Transnet Freight Rail
commuter railway networks in the major cities
new standard (1435mm) gauge inter-city and commuter railway between
Pretoria and Johannesburg, with a link to Johannesburg International
- StarLine Namibian passenger train operator
providing services between Upington and the Namibian border.
Concessions have been agreed in principle for the companies
below to take over operation of the lines from Transnet.
Railway Company private freight line from Wolseley (connection
with Transnet) via Ceres to Prince Alfred Hamlet, about 26 km. Also
operates tourist passenger services, see below.
- Eskom private freight line under construction from
Ermelo, Mpumalanga (connection with Transnet) to Majuba Power Station,
about 68 km.
Luxury Cruise Trains
- Atlantic Rail steam hauled passenger trains on the
lines of Transnet, from Cape Town to destinations in the Stellenbosch
area. Operates typically two Sundays each month. Other services are
proposed for the future.
Railway Company steam hauled passenger trains between Cape Town
and Ceres, over the lines of Transnet and its own freight line.
Operates one way or return journeys on a few days each month.
- Reefsteamers steam hauled passenger trains, operating
typically 2 days each month, from Johannesburg Park station to
Magaliesburg (about 40 km) and occasionally to other destinations.
Express King’s Beach, Port Elizabeth to Port Elizabeth International
Airport, about 3.5km. 2ft (610mm) gauge, steam hauled. Proposed eventual
extension to Thornhill, a total distance of about 53km. Possible future
local and commuter services.
- Hambaweheli Express Paddock to Plains,
about 2.5km. 2ft (610 mm) gauge, diesel hauled (No website
located at present)
- Paton’s Country Railway Ixopo to Umzinkulu,
about 20km. 2ft (610 mm) gauge, diesel hauled (No website
located at present)
Estates working farm near Ficksburg with a 2ft (610 mm) gauge railway
covering some 26km, using preserved steam and diesel locomotives. Open to
the public only for special events, but visits can generally be made at
other times by prior arrangement.
- Umgeni Steam Railway Kloof to Inchanga,
standard gauge, usually steam hauled. Runs two or three Sundays in
each month. Occasional excursions also operate from Pietermaritzburg
to Baynesfield and Wartburg.
of the Choo-Tjoe group seeking to reopen all or part of the 67km line
from Knysna to George, formerly the route of the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe,
as a tourist line
- Franschhoek Wine
Tram diesel tram built to a traditional design, carrying visitors to
vineyards in the Franschhoek area.
- Kimberley Trams historic 3ft 6in (1067mm) gauge
electric street tramway running between City Hall and the Kimberley Mine
Museum (No website located at present)
This list is not intended to be exhaustive.
- Kumba Iron Ore operates an extensive 1067mm gauge
rail network at its Sishen mine in Northern Cape Province, loading
trains for onward haulage by Transnet (Website contains no
details relating to internal railway)