Blue Train
Blue Train SA logo.png
Blue Train passes through the Karoo.jpg
Blue Train passes through the Karoo
Service typeLuxury train
First service1923
Current operator(s)Transnet Freight Rail
Cape Town
Distance travelled1,600 km (990 mi)
Average journey time27 hours
On-board services
Sleeping arrangementsYes
Catering facilitiesYes
Track gauge1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)

The Blue Train travels an approximately 1,600-kilometre (990 mi) journey in South Africa between Pretoria and Cape Town. It is one of the most luxurious train journeys in the world. It boasts butler service, two lounge cars (smoking and non-smoking), an observation car, and carriages with gold-tinted picture windows, in soundproofed, fully carpeted compartments, each featuring its own en-suite (many of which are equipped with a full-sized bathtub).[1] The service is promoted as a "magnificent moving five-star hotel" by its operators, who note that kings and presidents have travelled on it.[2]


The Blue Train's origins date back to 1923, when the Union Express commenced between Johannesburg and Cape Town, it was named the Union Limited in the reverse direction.[3] The Union Express introduced luxury features such as a dining saloon in 1933 and air-conditioned carriages from Metro-Cammell in 1939.[4][5][6]

After being withdrawn in 1942 due to World War II, the service returned in 1946.[3] With the reintroduction of the train, the colloquial "blue train" moniker, a reference to the blue-painted steel carriages introduced in 1937,[1] was formally adopted as the new name.

In 1955 it began to be hauled by 3E electric locomotives between Cape Town and Touws River.[7] In 1959 a Wegmann & Co built air-conditioned dining and kitchen car was inserted into each set.[8] In September 1972, two 16 carriage sets built by Union Carriage & Wagon were introduced.[9][10] In 1997 it was refurbished and relaunched.[11] In 2015, Class 20Es 20-031 and 20-032 were assigned to the train replacing Class 18Es.[12]


The Blue Train.jpg

Prior to 2002 the Blue Train operated on four distinct routes:

By 2004 the last two routes had been suspended, the former due to lack of patronage, the latter due to erratic rail rates being charged for access to the network of financially strapped Zimbabwe.[6] As of 2007 the only regular route in operation was Pretoria-Cape Town; however special package tours were offered to Durban or the Bakubung Game Lodge.[13] Other variations on the route have been offered.[14]

Shosholoza Meyl, the long-distance train division of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, operates trains on the same Pretoria to Cape Town route. One train per day runs in each direction, but this not a 'luxury' service. As of 2009, the Blue Train is operated by Luxrail, a division of Transnet Freight Rail.[15]

Operations require two Blue Trains in operation: one operates in the northern direction and the other in the southern direction, allowing for daily departures from both ends of the route. The first train accommodates 74 guests in 37 suites. The second accommodates 58 guests in 29 suites and features a conference or observation car at the back of the train.

The trains travel at a speed of up to 90 kilometres per hour (56 mph).

See also


  1. ^ a b "Train travel in South Africa". Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  2. ^ "The Blue Train". Archived from the original on 17 June 2007. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  3. ^ a b The rhythm of The Blue Train Rail Enthusiast issue 26 November 1983 pages 51-55
  4. ^ "New coaches for SAR Blue Train" Railway Gazette 21 July 1967 page 526
  5. ^ Ride the Blue Train for luxury on 3ft 6in gauge Rails November 1974 pages 17-19
  6. ^ a b "Love on the tracks for the diehard train buff". The Sun Herald. 12 December 2004. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  7. ^ "The Blue Train" Railway Gazette 13 January 1956 page 40
  8. ^ "Air-Conditioned Dining Cars" Railway Gazette 2 January 1959 page 8
  9. ^ "New Blue Trains continue tradition of luxury travel" Railway Gazette International September 1972 page 345
  10. ^ New luxury train sets for SAR Blue Train Modern Railways issue 296 May 1973 pages 192-195
  11. ^ The finest hotel on wheels Railway Gazette International June 1997 page 365
  12. ^ Traction change for the luxury Blue Train in SA The Railway Magazine issue 1374 September 2015 page 119
  13. ^ "The Blue Train - Routes". Archived from the original on 29 June 2007. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  14. ^ "Special Blue Train Run to KZN". Railways Africa. Retrieved 27 November 2010.
  15. ^ "Transnet sells Shosholoza Meyl". South African Press Association. 15 May 2009. Retrieved 6 August 2010.

Further reading