The Blue Train - South Africa

The Blue Train - South Africa

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). The service is promoted as a "magnificent moving five-star hotel" by its operators, who note that kings and presidents have travelled on it.

History of The Blue Train

The Blue Train's origins date back to the Union Limited and Union Express trains which began in 1923, taking passengers from Johannesburg to the ships departing from Cape Town to England. The Union Express introduced luxury features such as a dining saloon in 1933 and air-conditioned carriages in 1939.

After a break in service in World War II the service returned in 1946. With the reintroduction of the train, the colloquial "blue train" moniker, a reference to the blue-painted steel carriages introduced in 1937, was formally adopted as the new name.

In 1955 it began to be hauled by 3E electric locomotives between Cape Town and Touws River. In 1959 a Wegmann and Co. built air-conditioned dining and kitchen car was inserted into each set. In September 1972, two 16 carriage sets built by Union Carriage and Wagon were introduced. In 1997 it was refurbished and relaunched.

The Blue Train Route

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

the main Pretoria-Cape Town service
the scenic "Garden Route" from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth
to Hoedspruit, along the western edge of Kruger National Park
to Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls
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. 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. Other variations on the route have been offered.

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, South Africa's national railway operator.

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).




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