Rail transport in South Africa

Rail transport in South Africa

Rail transport in South Africa is arguably the most important piece of the country's transportation infrastructure. All major cities are connected by rail, and South Africa's railway system is the most highly developed in Africa. [ [http://www.international.icomos.org/risk/2002/southafrica2002.htm South Africa - ICOMOS World Report on Monuments and Sites in Danger 2002: Heritage @ Risk ] ] The South African rail industry is publicly owned.


The first track for steam-powered locomotives was a 45-mile stretch from Cape Town to Wellington, that was built in the 1860s. Rail in other provinces started later, but a national "link-up" was established in 1898, creating a national transportation network. [ [http://mysite.mweb.co.za/residents/grela/transnet.html SAR & Transnet History ] ] This national network was largely completed by 1910. [ [http://www.international.icomos.org/risk/2002/southafrica2002.htm South Africa - ICOMOS World Report on Monuments and Sites in Danger 2002: Heritage @ Risk ] ] And while rail lines were also extending outside of South Africa, as far north as present-day Zambia, [ [http://orangemarmtrading.com/SA_Railway_History.html SA Railway History ] ] the vision of Cecil John Rhodes, to have a rail system that would run "from Cape Town to Cairo", would never materialize.

Upon the merger of four provinces to establish the modern state of South Africa in 1910, the rail lines across the country were also merged. South African Railways and Harbours (SAR & H) was the government agency responsible for, amongst other things, the country's rail system. During the 1980s, the transportation industry was reorganized. Instead of being a direct government agency, it was modeled along business lines into a government-owned corporation called Transnet. Transnet Freight Rail (until recently known as Spoornet) is the division of Transnet that runs the rail system. [ [http://www.spoornet.co.za/SpoornetWebContentSAP/html/about/history.htm Spoornet history ] ] Though there are no plans to end government-ownership of the national rail network, some small portions of the rail system have recently been privatized. [ [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-260132/South-Africa South Africa :: Railways and roads - Britannica Online Encyclopedia ] ]


Transnet (and previously Spoornet and its predecessor) became famous for its luxury rail lines, most notably the Blue Train, which runs from Cape Town to Johannesburg. The Blue Line has frequently been named the best luxury train line in the world, and the 1600 kilometer run is a popular tourist attraction for South Africa. [ [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-260132/South-Africa South Africa :: Railways and roads - Britannica Online Encyclopedia ] ]

However, with the increasing coverage provided by the nation's highway system, long distance passenger travel has declined in South Africa. While many commuters still use rail for their daily commute, nationally, only half of the nation's 20,000 km of track is being fully utilized, and some 35% of the nation's track carries no activity or very low activity. [ [http://www.international.icomos.org/risk/2002/southafrica2002.htm South Africa - ICOMOS World Report on Monuments and Sites in Danger 2002: Heritage @ Risk ] ] Accordingly, Transnet is moving towards an emphasis on freight, rather than passengers, to keep the rail system profitable.

For a look at the South African transportation network, including the rails, view this [http://www.un.org/Depts/Cartographic/map/profile/southafr.pdf map from the United Nations] .


Nearly all railways in South Africa use a RailGauge|42 narrow gauge track. This was selected in the 19th century to reduce the cost of building track across and through the mountains found in several parts of the country . [ [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-260132/South-Africa South Africa :: Railways and roads - Britannica Online Encyclopedia ] ] However, Transnet is now experimenting with standard gauge track. Initially, a rapid speed commuter line called Gautrain will use standard gauge. Ultimately, the hope is that the conversion to standard gauge will also enhance rail's potential as a freight carrier.

South African trains connect through the Janney coupling, developed in the United States at the end of the 19th century. Remarkably, though South Africa has long been ahead of Europe in coupling systems, it has lagged behind most of the world in its braking system; most trains in South Africa continue to use vacuum braking. However, the conversion to air brakes has finally commenced.

Between 50% to 80% of the rail lines in South Africa are electrified. [ [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-260132/South-Africa South Africa :: Railways and roads - Britannica Online Encyclopedia ] ] Different voltages are used for different types of trains. Most electrified trains run 3000 V DC (overhead); this is used primarily for commuter lines, and has been in use since the 1920s. During the 1980s, heavier voltages (25 kV AC and —much less frequently— 50 kV AC (both overhead) have been used for heavy duty lines, primarily in the transport of iron ore.

Transportation systems in nearby countries

*flagicon|Angola Angola
*flagicon|Tanzania Tanzania same gauge as far as Dar es Salaam - transshipment to RailGauge|1 gauge at Kidatu
*flagicon|Malawi Malawi
*flagicon|Zambia Zambia
*flagicon|Democratic Republic of the Congo Congo
*flagicon|Botswana Botswana
*flagicon|Lesotho Lesotho
*flagicon|Mozambique Mozambique, under repair
*flagicon|Namibia Namibia
*flagicon|Swaziland Swaziland
*flagicon|Zimbabwe Zimbabwe

See also

*Shosholoza Meyl
*2006 Cape Town truck-train collision

External links

*Ripley, Luke [http://web.archive.org/web/20061005135531/http://www.cam.ac.uk/societies/curc/eagle/61/sa.htm A gricer's guide to the railways of South Africa]
* [http://www.info.gov.za/speeches/2002/020206246p1001.htm Rail accidents in South Africa]


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