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
- Transnet Freight Rail national railway network
and freight operator on the network
- Shosholoza Meyl long distance passenger
commuter railway networks in the major cities
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.
- Integrated High Speed Train Network
proposed new high speed railway (Website contains no
specific details of railway)
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.
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, steam or diesel hauled
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.
- Wonder Steam Trains group proposing to operate
steam hauled tourist passenger trains on the lines of Transnet from
Pretoria to Cullinan, about 45km.
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 few
details relating to railway)