In 1857 a private company known as the CAPE TOWN RAILWAY AND DOCK COMPANY obtained Government sanction for the construction of a line of railway from Cape Town to Wellington (via Stellenbosch), a distance of 57 miles (92km). This line was commenced in 1859, and opened for traffic four years later, when about 6 miles (10km) of what is now known as the Wynberg-Simonstown line was also commenced. These lines were built on the 4 feet 8 1/2 inches gauge (1.43 metre).
The Cape Colonial government, under its contract with the CAPE TOWN RAILWAY AND DOCK COMPANY where it had reserved the right to purchase the company and all its assets, including the telegraph apparatus, in 1871 exercised its contractual rights and purchased the Company incorporating it into the CAPE GOVERNMENT RAILWAYS.
… in order to secure direct Control over its construction and working. After the purchase was effected the battle of the gauges began, the 3' 6" (1.07 metre) gauge being finally adopted on a point of economy as the standard of all future lines, the gauge of the Wellington Railway being subsequently reduced in width to meet this requirement.(See Bisset 'Memoire')
In 1870 BROUNGER again arrived at the Cape, joining the Cape Government Railways the next year (1871). He spent some years planning and surveying railway lines in the Eastern Cape with his son, Richard Ernest Brounger. In 1873, when the government of the Cape Colony took over the railways, Brounger was appointed Colonial Railway Engineer and was in charge of all railway construction and management. He organised the replacement of the colony's fast wearing wrought iron lines with newly developed steel rails, experimented with various kinds of wooden sleepers, and supervised the construction of lines linking Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and East London to Kimberley. During his term of office the lines from Cape Town and Port Elizabeth were almost completed to De Aar, and for a few months the junction there was known as Brounger's junction. The line from East London was completed to Sterkstroom in his time, while branch lines were completed to Malmesbury and Grahamstown. His health deteriorated in 1883 and he retired to Britain
The history of the railways in the Cape Province, therefore, dates, as a Government enterprise, from 1873, when 63 miles (101km) of line were open for traffic. From that date railway construction was vigorously undertaken. The objective the Government had in view was the extension of the railway to Kimberley the permanence of which place as a great centre of industry had already been established. From Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and East London new lines accordingly began to extend inland to Kimberley. In 1875 the line from Port Elizabeth reached Uitenhage, and in 1876 the East London line was opened for traffic to King William's Town. Meanwhile, in the Western Province the great engineering task of surmounting the Hex River Pass was being accomplished, and early in 1878 the first train ran from Cape Town to Matjesfontein, a distance of 195 miles (314km); Beaufort West (339 miles (632km) from Cape Town) was reached in 1880, and then followed two years during which the extension was not so rapid. By 1883, however, the Western Railway extended 419 miles (674km) from Cape Town, and towards the end of 1885 the through route from Cape Town to Kimberley (647 miles (1084km)) was declared open for traffic. About the same time through trains ran from Port Elizabeth to Kimberley, connection with East London being established in 1892.
Meanwhile the discovery of the Witwatersrand gold-fields had created another objective for railway expansion from the Cape Colony to the Transvaal. Accordingly in 1889, the Cape Colonial Government entered into an agreement with the Orange Free State, whereby it undertook, at its own expense, to extend the line from Port Elizabeth through Bloemfontein towards the Vaal River the Orange Free State to receive half the revenue accruing from such extension through its territories. This extension was completed to Viljoen's Drift in 1891, and towards the end of the following year the NZASM: Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg-Maatschappij completed the line from Viljoen's Drift to Johannesburg.
Whilst this construction was being pushed forward towards the gold-fields, the line to Kimberley was also being extended, being opened in 1890 to Vryburg, 774 miles (1245km) from Cape Town.
In 1893 this line was further extended by the British South Africa Company to Mafeking (now Mafikeng), 870 miles (1400km) from Cape Town, the section being opened for traffic in 1894, reaching Bulawayo, 1,360 miles (2188km) from Cape Town, in 1897 and eventually Victoria Falls, 1,640 miles (2639km) from Cape Town, and then Broken Hill, 2,014 miles (3240km) from Cape Town, and finally the Star of the Congo Mine in Belgian Central Africa (now Democratic Republic of the Congo).
By 1894 fire-clay bricks were being manufactured locally by the Vereeniging Brick and Tile Company Limited and supplied to the CAPE GOVERNMENT RAILWAYS to line the fire-boxes of their locomotives.
Broadly speaking, therefore, it may be said that up to 1895 railway development in the Cape Province was confined to the great work of extending the trunk line to Kimberley and the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and to the then ZAR (later Transvaal Province).
From 1895 to 1905 was the era of branch-line construction, but this enterprise languished for a while after the latter year owing to the unprecedented depression, which lasted until about 1910.
At the formation of Union in 1910 the SOUTH AFRICAN RAILWAYS AND HARBOURS was formed, incorporating the Cape Government Railways, and although various railway activities gradually merged throughout the Union, activities only finally ceased in 1916.
[Entry expanded from notes supplied by A.H. Tatlow and published in Cape Colony (1910)]
Architects and Engineers on this site recorded as having done service with the Cape Government Railways
ROBERTSON after arrived in South Africa in April 1888 aged seventeen, was first employed by C DUNSCOMBE in Cape Town on the drainage plans for Cape Town and suburbs, joined the Railway Engineering staff in Cape Town before entering George RANSOME's office in 1890.
Alexander Lawrence CHAPMAN joined the staff of the Cape Government Railways in 1905, working as an assistant to DA McCUBBIN.
Thomas Henry HITCHIN came to the Cape Colony in 1891 where, for a few months, he worked in the Engineering Department of the Cape Government Railways.
John Abraham MOFFAT came to South Africa in 1895 and, until 1897, served with the CAPE GOVERNMENT RAILWAYS, before relocating to private practice in Johannesburg.
Robert Anderson WYSE immigrated to South Africa from Scotland in1889, spending the first four years in the service of the Cape Government Railways as Assistant Engineer and later as District Engineer.