South Africa: The Last Train to Cape Town?


A train trip to Cape Town that takes nearly two days, and the unexpected cancellation of a return leg to Johannesburg, forces a broader contemplation of the continuing decline of public services in South Africa.

About a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote enthusiastically about taking the Shosholoza Meyl Premier Classe (they use that final "e") through-train from Johannesburg to Cape Town.

As a long-time enthusiast, I had ridden on trains whenever I could, wherever I found myself, whether it was on state-of-the-art Shinkansen "bullet trains" in Japan or express trains across the island of Java or down the Malay Peninsula where the railroads used coaches probably first placed into use just after World War II. Those trips could have the feel of something out of a Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh or even a late Joseph Conrad story.

Here in South Africa, many years before, I had taken the old Trans Karoo express train from Johannesburg to Cape Town. While the personal treasury could not stretch to cover the fare for the Blue Train for a family of four, the Trans Karoo seemed like a plausible and much more affordable alternative. And so it was.

They actually were still using their reliable...

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