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Rail transport in South Africa is the most important element of the country’s transport infrastructure. All major cities are connected by rail, and South Africa’s railway system is the most highly developed in Africa. The South African rail industry is publicly owned and managed by Transnet freight rail (formerly Spoornet) a division of Transnet.
With the increasing coverage provided by the nation’s highway system, long distance passenger travel has declined in South Africa. While many commuters still use rail for their daily commute, nationally, only half of the nation’s 20,000 kilometres (12,000 mi) of track is being fully utilized, and some 35% of the nation’s track carries no activity or very low activity. Accordingly, Transnet is moving towards an emphasis on freight, rather than passengers, to keep the rail system profitable.
Transnet is investing R82 billion over the next five years, of which R40.8 billion is being spent on upgrading freight rail infrastructure and rail engineering. The upgrading of the freight rail infrastructure is key to the objective of shifting more freight from the road network to the rail network as well as finding the balance between road and rail in respect of the transportation of goods. The Gautrain, South Africa’s most ambitious recent rail project connects Johannesburg, Pretoria and OR Tambo International Airport since mid 2011, easing congestion on the Johannesburg-Pretoria .
In April 2010, the South African Minister of Transport proposed a Johannesburg-Durban high speed rail system. There are concerns about the cost and engineering difficulty of the project, which would have to cross the Drakensberg mountains. but the minister repeated proposals in June 2010. The project is expected to cost U$30 billion, but there are hopes that alternative funding sources will be available.