Pietermaritzburg station opens but train delayed 10 hours

Passenger rail services were suspended at the station in 2021 due to vandalism and theft

By Joseph Bracken

12 December 2023

Photo of the inside of a train station

The Shosholoza Meyl had its first two trips between Johannesburg and Durban this past weekend, stopping at Pietermaritzburg for the first time since 2021. Photo: Joseph Bracken

Pietermaritzburg railway station recently resumed its passenger rail service for the first time since its closure in 2021. Before its closure, the station served 6,000 passengers monthly.

The Shosholoza Meyl resumed its route between Johannesburg and Durban this past weekend, with stops at Pietermaritzburg, Germiston, Standerton, New Castle and Ladysmith. The train will operate on a weekly basis during the peak time of December, said Makanda. Off season, it will only run once a month.

On Saturday it travelled from Johannesburg and on Sunday returned to Johannesburg.

Passenger services had been suspended due to high levels of vandalism and theft that rendered the station and the railway lines unusable. Theft of copper cabling and signalling infrastructure remains a problem, said Andiswa Makanda, spokesperson for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA).

There is no date set for services to resume between Pietermaritzburg and other destinations in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). There is currently no way to travel between Pietermaritzburg and Durban by train as the Saturday Shosholoz Meyl heading to Durban is a drop-off service only and on its way back it only picks up passengers for Johannesburg. The cost is a flat rate of R170 in economy class and R360 in tourist class regardless of where one boards or alights.

Troubled start

Shosholoza Meyl trains are part of PRASA’s long-distance passenger service for inter-provincial travel.

The train departed Johannesburg at 6:30pm on Friday and was scheduled to arrive in Pietermaritzburg at 6am on Saturday, but only arrived at 4pm on Saturday, almost ten hours late.

The delay was caused by the train having to significantly reduce its speed to avoid derailment due to the poor condition of the tracks which have deteriorated because of a lack of maintenance, said Makanda. The line is owned and maintained by Transnet.

A goods train which failed outside Pietermaritzburg also blocked the route.

Zimele Duma, a passenger, said how displeased he was at the lengthy delay. His children had had to wait all day for him at the taxi rank.

Duma complained about the lack of communication from train staff and said the journey was not worth the cost.

“The train used to be better, now it’s worse,” he said.

The Pietermaritzburg station was recently refurbished after years of vandalism. The roof was repaired but in recent heavy rains it was leaking.

A team was dispatched this morning to assess whether there has been any damage to the roof, said Makanda.

Since last year, PRASA KZN has reopened four operational corridors for its metro line including Umlazi, KwaMashu, South Coast and Cato Ridge.