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Rail Travel in South Africa 9 May 2017

South Africa has thousands of kilometres of railway. Most of it is "Cape Gauge" (1067 mm) with a few narrow gauge lines (610 mm) and one standard gauge line (1435 mm). Only a relatively small part of the extensive rail network is open to passenger services - the rest is used for freight only or has been closed to all traffic.

A MetroRail train at Kalk
Bay in the Western Cape

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), formed in 2009, controls most scheduled passenger trains in the country. It owns MetroRail, Shosholoza Meyl and Premier Classe, as well as Intersite (who manage train stations) and AutoPax (a long-distance bus company). Many tourist train services are privately owned and run, often by unpaid volunteers.

Detailed information on getting around South Africa by train can be found at The Man in Seat 61, a thorough and comprehensive site dedicated to worldwide train travel.

If you see any mistakes in the lists below, or would like to have a link added, please email me.

Scheduled Passenger Services
Shosholoza Meyl  Operates frequent inter-city trains between major centres such as Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, East London, Kimberley, Pietermaritzburg, Musina (formerly Messina) and Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit).
Kei Rail  Sporadically operates trains between Mthatha (formerly Umtata) and Amabele in the Eastern Cape, with a connecting bus service from Amabele to East London. Owned by the Eastern Cape Department of Transport. This service is unfortunately subject to periodic cancellation.
MetroRail  Operates commuter trains in and around major cities - Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London (now also including a service to King William's Town). Western Cape MetroRail (Cape Town and surrounds) has its own web site at and there is a mobile phone site that provides real-time train information for travellers at
Gautrain  A relatively high-speed (160 km/h), standard gauge service between Pretoria, Johannesburg and OR Tambo Airport. Owned by a consortium comprising the Gauteng Department of Transport and some private companies.

Tourist Services
Premier Classe  Operates luxury trains on a few selected routes, such as Cape Town-Kimberley-Johannesburg, Cape Town-George-Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg-Pietermaritzburg-Durban.
Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe  For years this was a regular steam-hauled service between George and Knysna (and for a time between George and Mossel Bay), but severe floods in 2006 caused damage to the tracks ; as of February 2017 these had not yet been repaired. No trains are currently operating. An enthusiasts' group called the "Friends of the Choo-Tjoe" has been created to try and restore the line to full working order.
Apple Express  A narrow-gauge steam-hauled service from Port Elizabeth to various destinations. It normally only operates over weekends and school holidays.
Blue Train  Ultra-luxury trains on certain selected routes.
Ceres Rail Company  Steam trips from Cape Town to Ceres via the recently-restored line over Michell's Pass.
Umgeni Steam Railway  Steam excursions in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
Paton's Country Narrow Gauge Railway  Weekend trips on narrow gauge tracks in KwaZulu-Natal. There are two different routes - one from Ixopo and another from Creighton and Underberg.
Oosterlijn Steam Tours  Steam trips from Waterval Boven in Mpumalanga.
Atlantic Rail  Day trips (often steam-hauled) from Cape Town. The coastal route to Simon's Town is frequently used for Sunday excursions.
Hex Pass Eco Trek  Trolley rides up the old Hex River Pass railway (built in the 1870's but bypassed and abandoned when a shorter route through the Hex River Mountains was completed in 1989).
Franschhoek Wine Tram  A newly-constructed tram takes passengers along a short section of one of the most scenic rail routes in the country, between the towns of Franschhoek and Paarl in the Western Cape. I visited Franschhoek in May 2012 and wrote my impressions of the Wine Tram here.

Charter Train Tours
Rovos Rail  Ultra-luxury trains on various routes in Southern Africa, sometimes steam-hauled.
Shongololo Express  Multi-country train tours of Southern Africa.
JB Train Tours 

Rail Organizations and Enthusiast Groups
Railway Society of Southern Africa  (RSSA) Covering all aspects of rail in Southern Africa.
Friends of the Rail  Based in Pretoria.
Reefsteamers  Based in Germiston.
Cape Western Railway Society  Based in Cape Town.
Cape Railway Enthusiasts Association  (CREA) Based in Cape Town.
Heritage Rail Association of South Africa  (HRASA) An umbrella body for heritage railway operators.
SA Steam Preservation Association 
Friends of the Choo-Tjoe  A privately-funded enthusiast group that is trying to restore the defunct George-Knysna scenic railway to full (steam operated) service. This line has been closed since 2006 after severe flooding and rockfalls damaged the tracks.
SAR Steam 
Steam in Action  (SIA) Dedicated to rail preservation in Southern Africa.
2 Foot Preservation Trust  Dedicated to the preservation and continued operation of South Africa's narrow gauge railways (two feet/24 inches/610 millimetres).

Train Travelogues, Journals and Blogs
Century City by Train  (March 2012) A look at the new train station at Century City on the Cape Town-Monte Vista-Bellville MetroRail line.
Cape Town Stadium by Train  (April 2010) A visit to Cape Town's World Cup stadium (just before the 2010 Soccer World Cup Finals) using public transport.
Cape Town-Port Elizabeth  (January 2009) A return trip from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth on a Shosholoza Meyl Premier Classe train.
Johannesburg-Port Elizabeth  (December 2008) A return trip from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth on a Shosholoza Meyl tourist class train.
Cape Town-Johannesburg  (December 2007) A 1-way trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg on a Shosholoza Meyl Premier Classe train.
Cape Town-Knysna  (September 2001) A 6-day trip on the Union Limited (a now defunct vintage steam train that did various routes round Southern Africa).

Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa  (PRASA) The government-owned body that controls most passenger rail in South Africa ; it owns Shosholoza Meyl, MetroRail, Premier Classe and Intersite.
Transnet Freight Rail  (TFR) Handles almost all freight traffic in South Africa.
Intersite  Owns and manages train stations throughout South Africa.
Railways Africa  An excellent monthly printed and online magazine reporting on African rail news.
Tracks Across the Veld  The definitive book on rail travel in South Africa. Written by Boon Boonzaaier and based on his extensive experience in running Bushveld Train Safaris (a train tour company). It covers almost every section of railway line in South Africa that was operational at any time after the late 1980's, and is filled with photographs, maps and detailed descriptions of each route.
SA Rail News Blog  Current South African rail news - privately maintained.
RailRoad Association of South Africa 
Southern African Railways Association 
Railway Safety Regulator 
Sandstone Heritage Trust  Dedicated to the restoration and preservation of heritage rail equipment (locomotives, coaches, rolling stock, etc). Based in the Free State, it is privately run and funded.
Old Steam Locomotives in South Africa  Photos and information about plinthed and forgotten steam locomotives in South Africa. The site seeks to promote awareness and appreciation for these once living machines.
SA Railways Yahoo Group  (SAR-L) Free online group for anybody interested in South African railways.

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