Train Travel in South Africa

by Peter Baxter on August 6, 2009

by Peter Baxter | August 6th, 2009  

Outeniqua-choo-tjoeSouth Africa is a highly functional and sophisticated society, and this is reflected in its rail services.

Comprehensive urban and inter-city networks exists and all the main centers hosting matches in the upcoming Fifa 2010 World Cup tournament will be linked by some level of passenger rail services.

The South African rail system is publicly owned with a variety of different operating services.

South Africa urban rail has never had a good reputation

Rail travel in South Africa, with a few exceptions, has tended in the past to be the preserve of the masses, with very little in the way of safe and reliable services to tourists and the motorcar commuting public as a whole.

This began to change a little with the advent of majority rule in 1994, and will change far more radically as a consequence of the Fifa World Cup Tournament to be staged in South Africa in 2010.

South Africa has a comprehensive urban mass transit rail system

Metrorail is an urban commuter rail system that has been in existence in one form or another in South Africa for many years and has tended to be better in some urban centres than others. The system has of late suffered a diminishing reputation thanks to generally poor standards of safety and reliability, coupled with the added stress of high crime within the system.

A new and more user friendly system is set to be running by mid 2010

Significant time, effort and investment is being put into the system to upgrade it for use during the 2010 World Cup, which in future, if the momentum can be maintained, will be a boom for South Africa generally.

The Metrorail system has traditionally been most functional in Cape Town and surrounds, Durban and the South Coast, but it is currently being upgraded to service airports and the main urban sports and tourist facilities countrywide. This will be an excellent means of close urban touring and, thanks to tight policing, should during the period of the World Cup period at least be safe.

Gautrain

The most notable infrastructural development prompted by the World Cup has been the construction of the Gautrain. This will be yet another showpiece of African urban development peculiar to South Africa, and will in essence provide a mass transit link between the two principal cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg and the main transport hub of Oliver Tambo International Airport that serves them.

Gautrain will be the first truly accessible commuter transit system with the potential to relieve car traffic on the massive Ben Shoeman Highway between Johannesburg, Pretoria and the Midrand, and will contribute significantly to the expected movement of large numbers of tourists concentrated in the region in the run up and during the World Cup Tournament.

Gautrain have released no figures yet for fares and pricing, but it does make the point that this will be lower than a comparable car journey. An automatic ticketing system will be in place that will allow for day, week and monthly passes.

The rolling stock system to be used will be the Bombardier Transport’s Electrostar, a train commonly seen in the south of England.

Inter-city is definitely the way to see the South African countryside up-close…

The main centers of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban offer a comprehensive and very reliable inter-city railway system. The smaller centers will be connected by rail, but neither as regularly or as comprehensively. Port Elizabeth cannot be accessed directly from Cape Town, and both Rustenburg and Polokwane are connected via Johannesburg.

>>Railway Map of South Africa

>>Fares and schedules

Luxury train travel is well covered by the Luxrail Blue Train

This is one of the top three world rail travel experiences, which traces either the famed Garden Route or more directly through the Karoo between Pretoria and Cape Town.

Forget trying to get from A to B on the Blue Train. This is an experience unto itself, and with a single berth costing upwards of US$1500, this is certainly train travel par excellence.

A twice weekly train service between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban…

This is again probably something to do for the experience rather than for practical transport. At a cost of between US$100 and US$200 per person the Spoornet Premier Services is not cheap as train trips go, but being an overnighter, full berth and bedding are available, as well as meals.

Shosholoza Meyl long-distance passenger trains

Spoornet also operate a long distance passenger system that has been labeled as the best kept secret of a generally travel friendly country. This makes use of the same basic rail system as the Blue Train, and of course passes through the same selective countryside, but it is a great deal more social and affordable.

Shosholosa is a lovely word in the idiomatic African tradition of language, and is suggestive by its enunciation of steam train travel, evokes memories of mass migrant labor transit, and means literally Make room up ahead, or Make way for the next man…

The system offers a semi-luxury class, a tourist class, and various basic sitter and third class options. The cost on average is under US$100 for a bed in a 2 or 4 bunk sleeper. The Tourist Class option offers comfortable berths and a dining car, all served to a reasonably high standard.

>>Expect to pay between US$25 and US$60 depending on class and destination, which makes this a highly affordable option

Shosholoza FAQ

  • Bookings can be made 90-days in advance
  • Fares in fact vary by month
  • Travel is in a sleeper berth with a 2, 3, 4 or 6 berth capacity
  • Couples can request berths in a 2-berth compartment
  • Bedding (sheets, blankets, pillow, made up for you by the train attendant) is an extra US$5 or so per person. This is paid on the train
  • Children up to 9 (inclusive) travel at half fare
  • Returns are twice the one-way fare. There may be further reductions for students & seniors in off-peak periods, so ask when booking
  • Cars can be transported
  • Pets are not allowed on board, except guide dogs
  • >>Warning: Downtown train stations are rarely situated in safe or upscale neighbourhoods. Always take a taxi or escorted transport to catch a train. Never set off on foot.

    >>Shosholoza Meyl

    Look out also for the Outeniqua-Choo-Tjoe…

    This is the last continuously operating steam commuter train in South Africa. Operating between George and Mossel Bay in the Cape, it is a tourist attraction these days, but still proudly working a scheduled service.

    Air Travel in South Africa is expensive

    As a consequence train travel is designed a to be affordable to a low earning population. However even luxury and premier class fares are cheaper than comparable airfares, so train travel makes a lot of sense.Shosholoza Meyl services during the world cup will be discounted and packaged, so prior bookings and a little bit of research will definitely save you some money.

    train-map

    { 32 comments }

    ROSALYN ENGELBRECHT August 23, 2009 at 10:07 am
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    HI

    I AM TRYING TO FIND OUT ABOUT TRAVELING BY TRAIN. WE WANT TO TRAVEL FROM JHB TO PE AND BACK. 2ADULTS , 2 KIDS (KIDS 14YRS) CAN YOU PLEASE SEND ME MORE INFORMATION ABOUT IT AND THE PRICE. WE LOOKING AT THE DATES OF 4TH DEC AND RETURNING 11 DEC 2009.

    THANK YOU

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    Claudine Webb August 24, 2009 at 3:24 am
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    I would like to enquire about prises traveling from Jhb to Cape Town – one way on the 22nd of December. 2 Adults and one 7 year old child.

    Please advise

    Thank you

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    Arno Walters September 25, 2009 at 10:02 am
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    Hi,

    Could you please be so kind and e-mail quotes for train travel from Jhb – Cape Town, departing on 23 December 2009, returning on 2 January 2010. 2 Adults, 2 children (5 & 2 years).

    Regards,

    Arno

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    Patricia Matjila September 30, 2009 at 9:04 am
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    Hi,

    Kindly send me quotes for Shosholoza Meyl train as I understand is the cheapest from JHB-Cape Town, departing 4 January 2010 returning on 10 January 2010

    Many thanks
    Patricia

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    Patricia Matjila September 30, 2009 at 9:06 am
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    Hi,

    Kindly send me quotes for trains especially Shosholoza Meyl train as I understand is the cheapest from JHB-Cape Town, departing 4 January 2010 returning on 10 January 2010 for 2 adults and 2 kids, 14 & 5

    Many thanks
    Patricia

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    Dominique October 1, 2009 at 2:42 am
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    Hi there, please send advice on train tours from Cape Town to JHB around 28th Dec 2009 and return 2nd Jan 2010. 2 adults, 2 children , 1-2 scholars.

    Please send advice and suggestions

    Kind Regards,
    Dominique

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    Usman Ramzan October 16, 2009 at 3:29 pm
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    i m tryin next time pls post more info i m waiting
    http://cheapflights2africa.com

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    ELSA MEYER October 25, 2009 at 3:25 pm
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    Hi

    Can you please send me information / quote on traveling from Cape Town to Durban by train, especially Shosholoza Meyl train as I understand is the cheapest, on 26 Dec 2009 for 6 people.
    What are the departure times and how long will it take from Cape Town to Durban?

    Thanks
    ELSA

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    Candice Williams October 26, 2009 at 5:16 am
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    Hi

    I would like price schedule on a trip fron Johannesburg to Durban between the 23 December 2009 and 2 January 2010 with Shosholoza Meyl as soon as possible as this is a matter of urgency please.

    Thank you
    Candice

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    Nqobile Tshangase November 12, 2009 at 9:10 am
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    Hi

    Please send me quotes for trains especially Shosholoza Meyl train as I understand is the cheapest from JHB-Cape Town, for the month of december. Your kind and prompt assistance will be highly appreciated.

    Thank you and kind regards
    Nqobile

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    PHILIP CRONJE November 16, 2009 at 12:42 pm
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    an economical trip from jhb to cape town (seated trip ) please e mail me the cost is. grown up and baby

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    Ntombi November 20, 2009 at 2:16 am
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    Dear Reservation,

    Please can you send me qoutation for family of 15 pax. going from JNB to Mpumalanga & JNB to Magaliesburg.

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    Amahle November 30, 2009 at 7:14 am
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    Hi, can you please tell me the cheapest train from Jhb to Umtata (The name of the train and the price per person).

    Kind Regards
    Amahle

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    DAVID OCTOBER December 16, 2009 at 10:14 am
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    Hi
    Could you mail me the cost to travel by train from Cape Town to Umtata. 3 adults, one child over 12years and 3 children age 9, 8. 2years.

    Kind regards

    David

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    DAVID OCTOBER December 16, 2009 at 10:18 am
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    Hi I forgot the dates. Leaving Cape Town 20th or 22nd December 2009. Please give me the cheapest fare and the fare for 2nd class or 1st class.

    Regards

    David

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    Andiswa December 30, 2009 at 9:30 am
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    I wana find out from you guys if its posseble for me to find a cheap trin from Johannesburg to Cape Town on the 2nd of January 2010?

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    John C. Pigott January 11, 2010 at 2:31 am
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    Can you quote prices for 2 married adults Durban to Capetown return from roughly 25th June returning about 7th July 2010. Please include details such as sleeping arrangements, food availability etc.

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    Engela January 29, 2010 at 3:19 am
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    Hi, can you help me, we want to find out the prices for train tickets from Kimberley to Durban, 2 adults.

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    Marco Martins February 15, 2010 at 2:40 am
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    I would like to find out more information regarding train tickets from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth over June. Is there a specific website or contact number available for just such a request?

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    Brian Ferraz February 23, 2010 at 10:47 am
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    4 adults would like to travel by train from Durban to Port Elizabeth on either 12 or 13 July 2010. Please would you send me details of times and price of individual tickets. Many thanks.

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    Lau-Ann van Niekerk March 10, 2010 at 4:04 am
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    Hi, i want to know if you have a train going from Rustenburg to Warrenton on the 14th of March 2010 for 2 adults, one way, how much it will cost and the time of departure. Please and thank you!!

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    stephen March 16, 2010 at 10:12 am
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    Hi – I would like to k now if its possible to take the train from CT to keetmanshoop in namibia via upington or kimberly. Are there passenger trains or are they only freight trains that travel that route.
    thanks.

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    FELIX March 19, 2010 at 2:12 pm
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    Hi i need the cost of traving around SA by train 7 adults NB VERY IMPORTANT

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    G. Blair March 20, 2010 at 1:07 pm
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    My husband ans I are both pensioners and we would like a train tour from Cape Town to Namibia return approx 8 – 11 days. Can you help please?
    Thanks Gill & Sylvia Blair

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    norma March 30, 2010 at 9:17 am
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    how much does it cost for kids between 4and 5

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    S Kotze April 28, 2010 at 4:59 pm
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    I’m interested in getting cheapest train fare prices and seat availability as follows:

    1x Adult Joburg to Plettenberg Bay (or Knysna) – depart Joburg 9th June 2010 and return on 11th June WITH A CHILD 11YRS OLD.
    THEN 1x Adult plus 1x child (11yrs old) – depart Joburg on 20th June to Plettenberg Bay (or Knysna)
    Then 1x Adult depart from Plettenberg Bay (or Knysna) to Joburg on 22nd June
    SUMMARY: 1xAdult = 2 return trips
    1x child = 1 return trip

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    Jean-Jacques August 4, 2010 at 3:05 pm
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    We are a couple of friends who’d like to travel from JHB to Hartenbos by train in the cheapest possible way
    We want to follow the same route/similar route back after a week
    Waht would you recommend?

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    Ronel Kirsten September 10, 2010 at 6:24 am
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    Hi,

    I want the price for first class tickets from Barberton Mpumalanga to Port Elizabeth and back for 1 grownup and 2 children. Thank you!

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    Carien Pronk October 7, 2010 at 6:33 am
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    hi
    myself and a friend would like to travel from Pretoria to Durban by train in the cheapest way possible, in December.
    what do u recommed?

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    Hennie kadoes October 23, 2010 at 5:14 am
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    Hi can u please mail me the price by train from Cape Town to Umhtata its super Urgent THANK UUUUUUUU and from Cape Town to East London

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    Ricky November 24, 2010 at 1:43 am
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    Price from Pretoria to East London by train for 2x pensioners please?

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    lulu December 9, 2010 at 11:44 am
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    The train travel website is impossible to find, when all I want is cheap trains fares for my housekeeper and her two children to Cape Town.

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    Comments on this entry are closed.

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