In 1923 the railway societies Union Limited and Union Express were established to carry passengers from Johannesburg to Cape Town where they boarded ships to England. The latter offered lounge and restaurant carriages to passengers in 1933 (air-conditioned since 1939).
The outbreak of World War II interrupted the line service, which was a consequence of the decreased safety of maritime travel. In 1946 the carriages were resumed and the line named the “Blue Train” (from 1937 the carriages were painted blue). Considerable changes were introduced in 1998 when a new timetable was adopted (two trains a week) and more luxury travelling standards were introduced. Until 2002 passengers could travel on four routes: Johannesburg-Cape Town; Cape Town-Port Elizabeth; along the edge of the Kruger National Park to Hoedspruit; and to Zimbabwe. Due to political instability in Zimbabwe the service on two of the routes had to be suspended briefly.
At present, the line from Pretoria to Cape Town is in operation (though charters are available on a number of other lines, for instance to Durban). The route is 1,600 km long and the journey takes 27 hours but there is no time to get bored. When the train passes through the Kruger National Park, it becomes a luxury, bloodless safari on wheels. The wraparound windows of the viewing carriage make it possible to watch cheetahs, leopards or hippos, prides of lions and spotted hyenas, but also elephants, antelopes, white and black rhinos, giraffes and zebras. The train also passes by one of the seven natural wonders of the world – the Victoria Falls. David Livingstone described them in the following words: “on sights as beautiful as this, angels in their flight must have gazed”. All these things can be admired from an air-conditioned lounge while drinking wine served by waiters. Sleeping at night is difficult because the starry sky over the savannah is such a magnificent view.
The train operator is Luxrail, a part of Transnet - the state-owned freight carrier. Luxrail is an apt name for the level of travel luxury. Every three passengers have a valet at their service. Passengers can use cabins with bathrooms and bathtubs. Toilets are decorated with marble and gilding. Numerous ornaments in the lounge carriages for smokers and non-smokers are also gilded. The cooks prepare African, Thai and European delicacies. Hotels of such a standard are normally given a five star rating.
Two trains capable of accommodating 74 or 58 guests are in operation. The smaller one is terminated in a conference and a viewing carriage. Ticet price depends on the type of suite and hte type of suite and on the travelling route. The operator also offers chartered carriages for groups of travellers of 20 or more people. Then the choice of the route is free.