Does travelling by rail cost less?

When wanting to travel anywhere with public transport, two main options come to mind: flying or taking the bus. But is it perhaps cheaper to go by train? Ashleigh Brown compares prices for popular routes, travelling by bus, plane and train to find out what’s cheaper for your wallet.

However, when planning a trip, costs are not the only factor you need to consider.  The number of hours it will take and also the comfort of the journey going to be are two other points you need to think about, before booking your ticket.

Flying around:

Flying is a quick way to get anywhere. Most flights around South Africa are between one and two hours long.

However, it is also the most expensive way to travel. A flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg with South African Airways, for example, can cost R1361 (price as of 23 July 2014). With budget airlines like Mango, there are cheaper flights. The same route would cost R931.

Mango also has specials on popular routes, sometimes having flights as cheap as R500. But these flights are normally at odd times in the day, and you have to be on the lookout for the specials which can only be accessed through the mobile phone app.

Taking the bus:

When you have more time – and don’t want to pay the hefty amount for a plane ticket – you might consider taking the bus. Many believe it is the cheapest way to travel around South Africa.

However, it depends highly on which bus company you are travelling with.

At the time of writing, Moneybags found that Citiliner has the cheapest prices (see table below) compared to Greyhound and Intercape. The amount of time it takes to reach your destination is also about the same for each company.

While bus trips can be cheaper they are uncomfortable when cramped and these conditions are not pleasurable on long trips.

Going by rail:

The third option is to take the train. Out of all the options, the train takes the longest to get anywhere. Also, the Cape Town to Durban route has been discontinued.

But trains can offer something which the buses don’t: comfort and scenery.

There are two classes you can opt for on the train: the tourist class or the economy class.

In the tourist class you get plenty of leg room as there are bench seats. You also get access to a shared bathroom, restaurant and even a bed for overnight journeys. It makes traveling long distances much more enjoyable.

In the economy class there are simple seats, also with access to the bathroom and restaurant, but unfortunately no beds for overnight journeys.

A train ticket with Shosoloza Meyl is cheaper than a Greyhound bus ticket, and the trip is much more enjoyable, according to Mark Smith, an ardent train traveller and owner of the Man in Seat 61 website, which is dedicated to train travel.

A factor that does deter travellers from using the train is the safety aspect. This, according to Smith, is a misconception: “I find many middle class South Africans worry about train safety, because they see news items about suburban Metro trains, and are unable to distinguish these metro trains from the safe Shosholoza Meyl long distance ones.”

Prices compared:

The prices for the three main routes – Johannesburg to Cape Town, Cape Town to Durban and Johannesburg to Durban – are all one way.

national travel

International travel:

If you are looking to go to a neighbouring African country, getting there by train is a little tricky, as there are no direct trains from South Africa to our neighbouring countries anymore.

Train enthusiasts will need to take one to the border stop, take a bus across the border and then continue your train journey once you are in the country. This means that you will have quite a long journey, with lots of stops and goes.

For example, if you wanted to travel to Zimbabwe you can take the overnight Shosholoza Meyl economy train from Johannesburg to Musina (R290 in the sleeper class and R190 in the economy class).

According to Smith’s website: “Musina is 17km short of the frontier at Beitbridge, from where you can take irregular buses to both Harare and Bulawayo, or a newly-reintroduced twice weekly train from Beitbridge to Bulawayo.”

For any bus journey to neighbouring countries, you would first need to get to Johannesburg and then take a bus from there. This means that you will need two bus tickets.

Again, flying is the easiest, but most expensive way to travel. Most flights leave from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport. You can depart from other international airports in South Africa but flights are not as regular as they are from OR Tambo.

The table below is for bus and plane prices from Johannesburg to Harare, Zimbabwe, and Maptu, Mozambique. For prices on trains, buses or planes to Johannesburg, please consult the table above.

interntional travel


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