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Historic timeline of events


Photo Gallery

View in the photo gallery the origins of rail in South Africa dating back to 1853


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Timeline - 1900s

  • 1900 September 11

    NZASM relieved of control of the railways in Transvaal; with the railways of the Orange Free State, it came under control of the Imperial Military Railways.

  • 1902 July 1

    Railways of two republics Transvaal and Orange Free State placed under Civil Administration as Central South African Railways.

  • 1906 April 4

    Line between Klerksdorp and Fourteen Streams opened (now direct route from the Cape via Kimberley to the north).

  • 1910 May 31

    With Union the South African Railways and Harbours came into being as one organisation to serve the whole country. Johannesburg became the seat of unified Administration (Total track mileage 7 039 (11 328 km)).

  • 1913 July

    Riots caused extensive damage to Johannesburg station

  • 1914

    First strike in which large numbers of SAR&H employees were involved.

    Construction of the railway to South West Africa (Prieska-Nakop). 142 miles (229 km) were completed in 82 days.

  • 1915

    Opening of the first pre-cooling chambers at Table Bay.

  • 1915 June 25

    Union Railway System linked up with that of South West Africa at Kalkfontein (Karasburg).

  • 1916

    South Africa took over the administration of the railways in South West Africa.

  • 1922 April

    Railways in South West Africa became part of the SAR&H network.

  • 1923 October

    First experimental broadcasting of concerts in South Africa was conducted under the protection of the Broadcasting Committee of the South African Railways form the former head-office of the Railway Administration in Rissik Street.

  • 1923 November 26

    A luxurious bi-weekly express service in both directions between Pretoria and Cape Town was introduced. From Pretoria to Cape Town the train was called ‘Union Limited’ and in the opposite direction the ‘Union Express’.

  • 1924

    Grain Elevators in Table Bay Harbour and 34 country districts started to handle grain. (The total storage capacity of elevators 139 200 tons).

  • 1924 April 12

    Centenary of Green Point Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in Africa.

  • 1924 October 21

    First electric test train running between Ladysmith and Chieveley in Natal.

  • 1925

    Electric traction introduced in South Africa on Natal main-line (Glencoe – Mooi River).

  • 1925 August 1

    New Cape Central Railways, the last privately owned railway line (between Worcester and Mossel Bay), taken over by the Administration.

  • 1928 June

    Electrification Cape Town – Simonstown section completed.

  • 1929 August 31

    Opening of line between Messina and Beit Bridge and of the ‘Alfred Beit’ memorial rail and road bridge.

  • 1933 December 4

    Electrification of Salt River – Bellville section completed.

  • Emblem

    1934 February 1

    Air services hitherto operated by Union Airways taken over by South African Airways. Incorporation of South African Airways into SAR&H.

  • 1936 February 6

    Line between Postmasburg and Beeshoek opened.

  • 1936 May 1

    Line between Point and Congella, Durban, opened.

  • 1936 June 30

    Line between Beeshoek and Lohatlha opened.

  • 1937 March 15

    Electrification of the first two Reef suburban sections, Germiston – Wattles and Germiston – Alberton, completed.

  • 1937 October 3

    Electrification of Glencoe – Voksrust section of the Natal main-line brought into operation. Whole of Natal main-line, 327 miles (526 km), now electrified.

  • 1938

    Departmental House Ownership Scheme introduced with loans to staff at low rate of interest.

  • 1938 January 31

    Roodepooort – Randfontein section opened for electric working and full electric service put into operation between Randfontein and Welgedag as well as Langlaagte – Pimville.

  • 1938 November 7

    Introduction of electric passenger service between Johannesburg and Pretoria.

  • 1939 June

    Six new luxury air-conditioned all-steel saloons placed in service on the ‘Union Limited’ and ‘Union Express’ de Luxe trains. The ‘Blue Train’ foreshadowed.

  • 1940 February 5

    Electrified Canada – Booysens – Villiage main-line opened to traffic (Rand ‘Mineral Line’).

  • 1941 July

    All electrification work in connection with deviation from Krugersdorp to West Rand completed.

  • 1943 December 10

    Foundation Stone (Railway Training Institute), Esselen Park, laid by F.C. Sturrock, Minister of Railways and Harbours.

  • 1944 April 11

    Portfolio of the Minister changed from ‘Minister of Railways and Harbours’ to ‘Minister of Transport’.

  • 1946 February

    Union Limited and Union Express re-started operations under a new name, the ‘Blue Train’.

  • 1946 December

    Kazerne (Prospect) goods depot, came into operation.

  • 1947

    Royal Tour. The Royal Trains were first in the Union to be completely equipped with radio communication with the outside world.

  • 1947 May 22

    Excavations for the Hex River Tunnel began. It would have been one of South Africa’s largest civil engineering achievements of the time but work was ceased for financial reasons. 34 years later in 1980/81 work on the project was resumed.

  • 1947 June 2

    Introduction of ‘Orange Express’ between Cape Town and Durban.

  • 1947 July 1

    The South African Railways Administration acquired the assets of Natal-Zululand Railway Company.

  • 1948

    Inauguration of Solent flying-boat service from Vaaldam to Southampton.

  • 1948 February 1

    Inauguration by Road Transport Services of collecting and delivery (COD) services at every doorstep in Johannesburg.

  • 1948 June 7

    Line from Whites to Odendaalsrus (Orange Free State Gold fields) opened by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer.

  • 1949

    Instrument landing system to assist pilots installed at South African Airports.

  • 1948 March 1

    Centenary of Cape Agulhas Lighthouse.

  • 1950

    A locomotive fitted with a condensing tender successfully tested in semi-arid regions of the Union.

    Radar equipment for new harbour tugs of the Administration announced.

  • 1950 April 1

    Extension of the Ogies – Van Dyksdrif line to Broodsnyersplaas, in the Eastern Transvaal opened for all classes of traffic.

  • 1950 June

    Mobile container-trailers placed in service.

  • 1951

    First branch line on the South African Railways (between Ogies and Saaiwater) doubled.

  • 1951 July 13

    The new line from Grootvlei to Redan in the Transvaal opened.

  • 1951 September 13

    Foundation stone of new Johannesburg Station laid by the Minister of Finance (Mr N.C. Havenga).

  • 1952 January 6

    Automatic telephone exchange at new Kaserne goods depot brought into operation (ultimate capacity 400 lines).

  • 1952 February 2

    The Van Riebeeck Bridge (old Harrison Street subway), the first of several bridges spanning Johannesburg Station.

  • 1952 April 17

    Minister of Transport, Mr P.O. Sauer, opened Jan Smuts Airport.

  • 1953 April 8

    Opening of Bellville – Worcester electrified section of the Cape main-line.

  • 1953 October 14

    Line between Lohatlha and Sishen opened.

  • 1954 February 23

    First section of two-way railway bridge over Vaal River near Vereeniging launched.

  • 1954 May 14

    Electrified section of main-line between Worcester and Touws River opened.

  • 1954 October 14

    New Koedoesport Mechanical Workshop near Pretoria opened by the Governor-General, the Hon. Dr E.G. Jansen.

  • 1955 April 15

    Queen Elizabeth Bridge, Johannesburg, opened.

  • 1955 June 7

    First crossing of two trains through remote control was effected, and with that began the era of Centralised Traffic Control (CTC).

  • 1955 August 11

    Springs – Natalspruit avoiding line opened.

  • 1955 September 12

    Opening of new road bridge spanning seven railway lines at Dunswart

  • 1956 November 5

    Minister B.J. Schoeman opened the Railway Museum on Johannesburg Station.

  • 1956 December 5

    New double line between Vereeniging and Bloemfontein officially opened.

  • 1957 January

    Radio telephony used for first time on South African Railways to supplement telephone circuits between stations (Natal main-line).

  • 1957 June 7

    New passenger road service introduced between Johannesburg and Beit Bridge.

  • 1957 July

    For the first time since 1904 the railways snowed under across the Drakensberg. Passenger service resumed after twelve hours.

  • 1958

    Introduction of new suburban all-steel sliding-door passenger coaches between Johannesburg and Pretoria, and on the Witwatersrand.

  • 1958 August 10

    New Canada, near Johannesburg (one of the most complicated junctions by world standards), introduced to traffic.

  • 1958 August 28

    Diesel power used for first time to haul a main-line passenger train in South Africa, the funeral train of the late Prime Minister, Mr J.G. Strijdom.

  • 1958 November 21

    Break-through made on the second ‘twin’ of 3¾ mile Boughton – Cedara tunnel, the longest in Africa. (The first break-through, 17 July).

  • 1958 December 1

    Newly electrified Welverdiend – Klerksdorp section of the Johannesburg – Cape Town main-line brought into service.

  • 1960

    First Centralised Traffic Control (CTC) sections put into service.

    Diesel locomotives introduced on a large scale which meant the gradual end to steam traction.

    The new Johannesburg station put into use. (At that stage it was the most expensive station with cost amounting to £21 153 000 (R42 306 000) and had the largest concrete deck (17 acres) in the country).

  • 1963 January 7

    South African Railways took delivery of the first South African manufactured electric locomotive.

  • 1965

    Incorporation of Pipelines into SAR&H.

  • 1970

    Record heavy goods train - 9 000 metric tons ore train hauled by seven diesel locomotives.

  • 1972

    Two brand new ‘Blue Trains’ were placed in service.

    Shell prize for industrial design to Eric Mirrifield, inventor of the dolos.

  • 1973

    First centralised traffic control system with computer assistance was introduced on the Ermelo – Richards Bay line.

  • 1975 August 23

    A converted coach of the ‘White Train’, placed exactly in the middle of the bridge over the Zambezi, served as venue for discussions between the then opposing Rhodesian parties.

  • 1976

    Gold Medal of the Associated Scientific and Technical Societies of South Africa reward for the design of the Scheffel Bogie.

  • 1976 April 1

    The opening of Richards Bay Harbour and the coal line.

  • 1976 October

    Rail speed record of 208 km/h set on 1 065 mm gauge track.

  • 1977 April 1

    The Sishen – Saldanha railway line and ore export harbour taken over from Iscor. (Effective take-over of operations 1 April 1978).

  • 1977 July 1

    Containerisation officially introduced.

  • 1979

    New rail speed record of 245 km/h, on high stability bogies.

  • 1981 October 1

    SAR&H became a state business enterprise, South African Transport Services (SATS) with a reduced social responsibility for the development of the country.

  • 1982 November 19

    Sentrarand marshalling complex opened.

  • 1984 January 16

    Metroblitz, the first high speed suburban service in S.A., Johannesburg - Pretoria introduced.

  • 1986 October

    South African Railway Police transferred to newly formed Transport Policing branch of South African Police.

  • 1987 November 28

    South African Airways Boeing 747 - 244B Combi aircraft "Helderberg" crash into the Indian Ocean.

  • 1988

    Infrastructure and rolling stock handed over to South West Africa interim government. Staff had the choice to join TransNamib or return to South Africa.

  • 1990 April 1

    Transnet Limited incorporated as a company with the State as sole shareholder.

  • 1992

    PX operations in Spoornet ring-fenced and converted into a separate division of Transnet.

  • 1994

    The Phelophepa health train is a Transnet Foundation initiative to provide affordable primary health care to the poor. Whenever the train pulls into a station, 40 health lifestyle volunteers are there to help the community in health awareness. In addition to the doctors and nurses on board of the train there are fourth-year students specialising in certain health professions and doing their internships.