‘I don’t think I’ll ever use Shosholoza again’: Passenger's 'nightmare' trip to Cape Town

22 December 2023 - 19:12
By Khanyisile Ngcobo
A passenger has detailed a chaotic trip from Joburg to Cape Town using the Shosholoza Meyl. File image.
Image: Hendrik Hancke A passenger has detailed a chaotic trip from Joburg to Cape Town using the Shosholoza Meyl. File image.

“The experience was really horrible ... I don't think I'll ever use Shosholoza [Meyl] again”.

This is how Maxwell Nkambule summed up his nightmare journey from Johannesburg to Cape Town on the Shosholoza Meyl this week.

Nkambule was one of many people who snapped up the opportunity to travel on the long-distance train after the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) announced the resumption of services on December 1 after a two-year pause.

The resumption, however, has not been without snags, with the theft of overhead wires marring a trip to Cape Town just a week later. 

The trip had to be halted after it was discovered soon after midnight that overhead wires had been stolen between Kraaifontein and Muldersvlei, affecting the Wellington metro service. This forced Prasa to hire buses to ferry travellers for the rest of the journey.

Now it seems history has repeated itself with Nkambule having a similar experience. 

Nkambule said he decided to take the train for the experience but little did he imagine it would be an experience he would never want to repeat.

When he bought a ticket for the Wednesday trip, he was told the journey would take a day.

“When we got into the train station [however], we were given an itinerary [that showed that we would arrive] on Friday at 4am. It also told us the stops we'd make but there were needless stops every hour,” he said.

The train departed from Johannesburg at 10.30am and stopped in Germiston, which is where the nightmare began.

Nkambule said they spent the entire day in Gauteng, stopping frequently during that time, and even after finally leaving the province the stops continued unabated. The longest stop was in De Aar, where the train apparently experienced mechanical challenges.

“I think we spent close to 12 hours there ... because we arrived there at around 1pm and left very late,” he said.

The train also made a lengthy stop in Kimberley, but the final straw was the stop in Beaufort West, where the train stopped for about three hours.

“Things got really heated at times, especially last night [Thursday]. I think that's when they [staff] decided they were going to get us a bus because people were really getting agitated.

“It's been a horrible trip, this was really an experience that wasn't good. It will seem most of the people wanted that experience but after three hours [on the train], we were tired,” he lamented.

It's been a horrible trip, this was really an experience that wasn't good. It will seem most of the people wanted that experience but after three hours [on the train], we were tired

Adding to passengers' woes was the poor state of the train itself; the toilets stopped flushing along the way and the train ran out of drinking water.

Several 1.5l bottles of water were eventually given to passengers to share among themselves, he said. Lack of security was another issue, according to Nkambule. He said there was no one controlling access to the stations where they stopped.

Even getting food was a challenge, as they were told different stories on why the food was delayed.

“Eventually they had [served] braaied steak and rice. Can you believe it, dry rice with steak?” he said.

Buses were eventually hired to transport travellers from Beaufort West to Cape Town, with the expected time of arrival Friday afternoon.

Summing up his experience, Nkambule said: “I don't think I'll ever use Shosholoza again, I really hope they've learnt their lesson.

“Either this is a scam [in that] they wanted ... to cash in on the festive season movements or there's something we don't know. Because they were not ready ... you cannot come back after so many years and the experience is horrible, worse than it was before.

“It has been an experience I do not wish for anyone and I don't think personally, I'll wish to experience this again. Even the treatment [is a problem],” he said.

In its response, Prasa said on Wednesday, the train departed from Johannesburg to Cape Town on time at 10.30am.

It said the train journey was calculated to be 46 hours due to network challenges en route and was expected to arrive in Cape Town on Friday morning.

“The train experienced challenges with faulty locomotives between Kimberley and De Aar. Drinking water was made available for the consumption of passengers in the train en route.”

The train was refilled with water in Kimberley, it said. 

The locomotives were attended to by the Transnet Freight Rail technical team in De Aar. “Contingency buses were arranged to further transport the passengers from Beaufort West to Cape Town on Friday morning.”

It said the Cape Town route is a long stretch with a number of up/down gradients, which can affect the locomotives technically.

Main Line Passenger Services intends to continue running its services to Cape Town and improve on operational challenges,” Prasa said.

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