The Shosholoza Meyl train South Africa
The Shosholoza Meyl train arrives at Matjiesfontein Station in the Karoo region South Africa. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
  • The Shosholoza Meyl, which has been dormant for most of the year, has returned to service as of 27 November 2020.
  • With nine national hubs as primary destinations, and affordable prices ranging from R190 to R690, the long-distance passenger rail service looks to capitalise on the festive season rush.
  • Trains have already departed Johannesburg’s Park Station, while travel to and from Cape Town is expected to begin on 4 December.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

South Africa’s long-distance, intercity passenger train service, the Shosholoza Meyl, lurched back into action on Friday 27 November. After a fatal collision with a goods train near Horizon View, west of Johannesburg, on 12 February 2020, the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) suspended the Shosholoza Meyl’s operating license.

According to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) the period of forced inactivity – which coincided with a coronavirus-induced ban on interprovincial travel – allowed for an overhaul of the Shosholoza Meyl service and an eventual green light from the RSR.

The intercity operator’s relaunch at Park Station in Johannesburg was attended by transport minister Fikile Mbalula. Despite Prasa’s ongoing financial and operational woes, Mbalula welcomed the Shosholoza Meyl’s return.

Mbalula also conducted a series of carriage inspections to ensure that the long-distance trains complied with stringent health regulations. Travellers will need to wear a face mask while in transit, and will not be permitted to board if showing coronavirus symptoms.

Seating arrangements have been altered to ensure that passengers sit at least 1.5m apart. Passengers will also need to supply their own food, drinks, and bedding.

The Shosholoza Meyl travels to and from nine South African cities. Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Musina, Polokwane, Komatipoort and Queenstown are all included in the national route, with brief pit stops at some smaller towns along the way.

The Shosholoza Meyl is intended to be a low-cost rail carrier, with cross-country trips taking at least 26 hours to complete and no luxurious dining carriages or onboard entertainment to pass the time. The experience has been described as “uniquely South African”, harking back to days when migrant labourers would use the rail service to return to their rural homes after working in the country’s industrial hubs.

But what the Shosholoza Meyl lacks in luxury it looks to make up for in price. Fares are split into two categories. Tourist carriages include four-berth compartments with bunk beds, communal toilets, and a shower at the head of the coach. Economy class is a tighter fit with minimal amenities.

The Johannesburg line has been the first to reopen, with the first train is scheduled to leave Cape Town on Friday 4 December 2020.

An economy class ticket between Johannesburg and East London costs R300, while riding in the tourist carriage costs R480.

A trip between Johannesburg and Durban costs R170 in economy and R360 in the tourist carriage. The fare between Johannesburg and Komatipoort is R190 in economy class and R270 as a tourist. Johannesburg to Musina is R190 in economy class and R310 in the tourist carriage.

Other Johannesburg lines due to come online in December include:

  • To or from Queenstown: R240 in economy class and R400 in tourist carriage
  • To or from Port Elizabeth: R320 in economy class and R500 in tourist carriage
  • To or from Cape Town: R440 in economy class and R690 in tourist carriage

Cape Town ticket prices are expected to be updated in full by Tuesday 2 December but are expected to be in a similar range to fares applicable prior to Shosholoza Meyl’s hiatus, as follows:

  • To or from Queenstown: R350 in economy class and R600 in tourist carriage
  • To or from East London: R300 in economy class and R490 in tourist carriage

Children aged 3 to 9 pay 80% fare, while those under 2-years-old travel for free. Shosholoza Meyl train routes and timetables can be viewed online. For more booking information, travellers can call the central reservations office on 086000 8888.

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