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​School of Rail History



Since 1930s rail passenger and freight traffic increased rapidly in South Africa and properly trained railway staff were required to ensure an efficient and safe service. Mr Henry Lyell, the principal from 1945 to 1970 of what was referred to as “the largest railway training college in the world” said on his retirement: The complexity of increasing railway services cannot mastered by mere rule –of-thumb methods and day to day experiences.


On the 24 January 1940 the General Manager for SA Rialways and Habours wrote to the Chief Civil Enginner to request that the erection of the training institute should be proceeded with as a matter of urgency. The minutes of the meeting of System Engineer, held on the 15th and 13th March, recorded the  preferred location and set out the purpose of the proposed Central Training Institute, as Essellen Park was known at the time.


A total of 106,8 morgem of the farm Witfontain at Kaalfontain was to be expropriated.This farmland though distant  from any built up area, was on the railway line between Pretoria and Johannesburg, and relatively close  to Germiston, the largest railway shunting yard  in South Africa. The resident Engineer arranged for a survey of the property on 29 February 1940.

Name Changes

The Central Training Institute  was officially renamed “ The railway training Collage” In Railways circular no 3067 of 7  November 1946.Shortly thereafter, on 23 November 1949, The Minister of Transport approved the name “Esselenpark Railway College” after the late Louis Esselen, Railway  Commissioner from 1941- 1945 and esteemed champion  of railwaymen. Mr Louis Essellen was the right hand of the Minister of Transport and was responsible for improving the housing, educational and employment conditions of the lower-paid railway staff. In 1993 Esselenpark Centre of Excellence became the new name of the center so as to reposition is as a multi-purpose educational campus.


Today Esselenpark Center of Excellence  offers training in a number  specialise areas , including Logistics,  Management development, Rail generic training , technical training and train drivers services. Twelve years ago in 2000, Esselenpark Centre of Excellence was the first company in Africa to embrace  advanced  interactive distance  'education technology'  via the Internet. This enabled  Esselenpark to offer skills enhancement to Transnet’t thousands of employees.

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