Getting your Motorcycle onto a train in South Africa


Train Trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town with a Motorbike as Cargo  (December 2002)

Travelling by train with your motorbike is probably going to be a different experience to what you are used to. This is OK, just read on . . . 

For starters it is a very vague affair. Besides the current price you may become frustrated by the lack of precise information . . . but luckily for you, you have all the information you need from FlamesOnMyTank! Just follow the steps below, add a generous helping of luck and things will be just fine!

Before your Trip

1) Three months before (or later) you can book your train ticket. If you book by telephone and pay by Internet banking you will still have to collect your ticket in person from the station. This must be done the day before the trip (not the day of, as explained by the booking clerk) It takes hours to actually FIND the ticket, the desk, the office, the floor and the building. Therefore I suggest you go to the ticket office in person, with the money, pay, and get the ticket in one hit. You may feel uncomfortable arriving at the station with some much money on your person but the area crawls with security guards who are both friendly and helpful.

At this point you will only get the passenger ticket - not the cargo ticket which can only be paid for and issued on the day of the trip!!! Don't worry, be happy, the system seems to work.

Note that a station as large as Johannesburg has more than one ticket office. You will be looking for the Shosholoza Meyl office

2) Obtain a protective covering for the bike. We used a thick old blanket.

3) Obtain four tie downs or four pieces of ski rope. Each should be between two and three meters in length

4) Decide if you are going to eat at the fast food restaurant on the train or whether you are going to cater for yourself. (The best is probably a combination of both)

5) Decide if you are going to rent bedding or take your own

The Day of your Trip

A difficult day which is why I suggest that you have your passenger ticket in your possession beforehand. I also strongly recommend a friend to look after your stuff because you are going to be very busy with the motorbike.  If you cannot, there is a locker room where your luggage can be left for safe keeping. Note that for security reasons friends are not allowed onto the platform - this is for ticket holders and porters only

1) The day starts with you making sure that you only have half a tank of petrol or less.

2) On your person you will need your licence, R620-00 in cash (or more), your train ticket, the four tie downs and the protective covering for the bike.

3) Arrive at the station two hours before the train is due to leave. Once your luggage is safely within the station complex and your bike is stripped of all loose valuables you are ready to check it in. Take only your helmet with you and leave all your other riding gear with your luggage.

4) You will need to ride your bike down the ramp onto the platform. In Johannesburg you will find the on ramp to both platform 14 and 16 in Harrison St near to the intersection with Leyds. Therefore you actually have to ride out of the station complex which is why you need your helmet. (In Cape Town everything is done within the complex and is therefore easier.)

5) Ride down the ramp onto the platform 14 (take the right hand fork). Explain to the security guard what you want to do and he will allow you to enter.

6) Park the bike. Now is the time to buy the cargo ticket. Ask for directions to the luggage office. NOTE. The cargo tickets are not issued by the same ticket office as the passenger tickets, so ignore someone who wants you to go back to the main station complex.

7) You now find the office/desk. They will do the paper work and will ask for your train ticket and the cash. Clerks on the platform will try to charge you more so be sure of your facts! You will now be issued with a gum backed form that needs to be stuck to the bike. You should also be issued with some paperwork that you keep with you. Find a place to stick the form to the bike. It sticks like crazy so choose the place carefully. Ask the station official to arrange for a ramp so that you can ride the bike onto the train. Also ask him from which side the train will approach - this is useful because the cargo carriage is always at the very end of the train - where you and your motorcycle need to be waiting.

8) Leave platform 14 by riding up the ramp. This time take the left hand fork and ride down to platform 16. Go through the security gate onto the platform itself where the train will arrive. Once on the platform ride the bike to the end where the cargo carriage will be situated when the train pulls in

9) Wait for the train and hope like hell it will not be late because you have a lot to do and you do not want to be rushed. Use this time to locate the ramp.

10) The train arrives. Amen!! Find the cargo carriage which may or may not have some passenger compartments as well. Open the large door. Get some help to put the ramp in place. If the ramp cannot be found you are going to need some help anyway (this is easy to do)

11) Ride or push the bike into the cargo carriage and yes there will be other folk with all manner of things wanting to do the same thing.

12) You will notice that there are heavy duty attachment points all around the sides of the cargo hold. Look carefully in the middle area and you will also find some attachment points on the floor. Personally I anchored my bike against the very back wall of the carriage.

13) Put the bike onto its stand and close the petcock (fuel tap).  Lock the bike. For extra peace of mind you may want to use a disc lock as well. Cover it with the protective covering paying particular attention to areas like the windshield, headlight and other breakable areas. Secure the covering in place

14) Now lash the bike to the anchor points using the four tie downs (or ski rope) South African trains do not allows offer a smooth ride. Sometimes they can sway violently from side to side. Sometimes they pull off violently and sometimes the driver is a bit too enthusiastic with the brake. Therefore the bike must be secured against all four of the opposing forces

15) Ensure that no other cargo is placed in such a way that it will constitute a threat to the well being of your bike during the journey!

16) With the key in your pocket and your helmet in your hand you are ready to leave and start the passenger boarding procedure. Leave the platform and re-unite with the rest of your luggage. Say goodbye to friends, produce your ticket and gain access onto the platform. Getting a porter's help is not easy task but you can try. 

17) On the platform is a board that has all the carriages and compartment numbers e.g. "9D" is carriage 9 compartment D. Find your name. The carriages are clearly marked on the outside. Find your carriage and find your compartment.

19) Stow your heavy stuff under the seats and the lighter stuff on the rack. Keep your ticket handy. Stow all valuables away from the open window.

20) Open your cooler box and have a stiff drink. You are earned it!! Your holiday is about to begin. Once the train pulls out of the station the cargo hold is locked so you do not have to worry about your pride and joy. The train manager will arrive to check your ticket, introduce himself, give you his compartment number and brief you on safe travel procedures.

21) Disembarking at your destination is the exact reverse but with one difficult twist. You get your personal luggage off the train but now you need to get your motorcycle off as well. This time however you have no friend to look after your luggage. I suggest getting a porter. You do not need the ramp to get your bike off as the drop is quite manageable. Letting  the train manager know that you have a motorbike in the cargo hold and will need some time to get it off can help.

Final Comment on this Procedure

Was it worth it? Would we do this again? Was it a pleasant experience? The answer is a definitive YES. It was very stressful at the time but we did not know what to expect. Nobody, I mean nobody outlined all of this to us. We asked ten people and got ten different and often conflicting opinions. But now we know and it will be easy next time. You too know the procedure now and therefore you will manage if you just followed the steps as outlined. Do not be afraid to ask staff within the station complex and NEVER take one person's reply as gospel. Check it out with someone else, ask a third person and you will get it right.

If you do use the train and have something to add or change in this body of information please email me with your experience (see Contact Us page on the main navigation page) We will all appreciate your input

Motorcycle Insurance: Basic motorbike insurance is covered by Spoornet and is part of the basic cost. What this insurance comprises of I have no idea.

Cargo Cost: Motorcycle as cargo costs R620 one way (90 USD) if you are travelling on the train as well. It is about R80-00 more if you are not. Clerks on the platform will try to charge you more so be sure of your facts!

General Train Information

Contact Details: Spoornet: (SA Railway Services) 086 000 88 88. The train is called the Trans Karoo Express. The division of Spoornet is called Shosholoza Meyl
Motorbike as cargo: 773-7499 (although no one seems to answer and almost everything you need to know is on this web page  . . .  and a lot more) Try 011 774 5244 at Group Reservations and ask for Helleen Sauer.

Cost: 1st class
6 sleeper: R430 one way (60 USD). High season (Dec) is more
2 sleeper: R385 one way (55 USD). High season (Dec) is more
First class carriages are physically separated from 2nd and 3rd class.

If you are a little more particular then there is something called Prestige Class. This leaves only from Pretoria to Cape Town and is about four times more expensive than first class mentioned above.

If you are looking for a super-luxury African train experience then you need to travel on the Blue Train or on Rovos Rail. Both are hugely expensive (about 15 times more expensive). Rovos Rail in particular claims to be the most luxurious train trip in the world. 

Duration: Trip takes 26 hoursTrain leaves daily from Johannesburg at 12 noon and arrives in Cape Town the following day @ 2:15pm

Compartments: We suggest arriving with a cloth and soap as the compartments are a little grimy (yes, this is Africa and the same coaches have been in use for the last thirty years). Each compartment has its own wash hand basin with hot and cold water

Toilets: There is a public male and female toilet in each carriage as well as a shower with hot water. They are functional but are not a great hit with the girls who like something a little less industrial in appearance. Toilet paper is rationed so you may want to bring your own.

Catering: A BJ's fast food restaurant is available on the train that serves the usual burgers and English breakfasts. Tea, coffee, soft drinks and fast food can be ordered into your compartment. You are also free to bring your own food and drink if you prefer. There is a saloon that has a full bar facility at reasonable prices. Fresh drinking water is provided at the end of each carriage

Bedding: Bedding is provided for an additional fee of R50-00 (cash). It is spotlessly clean and consists of a thick blanket, cotton sheets and two pillows. A train steward will come around to your compartment and offer you bedding. You pay directly to him. You can however bring your own if you wish.

Security: Every train has eight security guards that patrol up and down the length of the train. They are well trained and pleasant. You cannot however leave your valuables unattended. The compartment doors do not really lock properly from the outside. This is a problem if you want to leave and go for a meal. Trains are a friendly environment however and each compartment looks after their neighbour's while they are away having a meal or drink. You can also ask one of the security guards to look after your compartment.

Compartments lock effectively from the inside and you can sleep easy BUT you MUST close the window with the steel shutter after dark. This is because petty thieves on station platforms can grab your stuff from the outside during the night. Even during the day do not keep valuables like cell phones near the open window.

If you do use the train and have something to add or change in this body of information please email me with your experience (See Contact Us page on the main navigation page) We will all appreciate your input.

Some comments Paul Ash (Email)

I've done at least six journeys with my bike on the train (Zim border and back a week later - 1999; Jhb-PE and Jhb EL in 2000, carried my bike on the trains, CT-Jhb - 2000 and Jhb-PE with motorcycle-sidecar outfit in 2002).

I agree that it can be an enormous hassle but have smoothed things over by getting hold of the chief baggage official at Joburg station before departure and making sure that he knows I'm coming. There's always a bit of a gedoente with the security guards at the platform gate but smiling, patience and a bit of stubbornness usually prevail.

I've found it much easier leaving from other places (Musina was such a joke, the bike actually rode for free, and Cape Town is a breeze because the platform exit to the road is right next to Platform 24, the mainline platform).

Because all my trips have been solo, I keep the bike loaded all the way to the baggage van (it's actually called a KP-wah=gon, or Kaa-Pee Wa).

That way I don't have to hassle too much about things walking away.

I'll do it again - it allows me to get to places without spending days on precious leave on the road. However, the price is a rip-off and I think we need to campaign for a reduction. If you think that a car can travel on the Trans Karoo for R1200 and has to travel ina special car carrier with a complicated loading procsdure, R700 for a bike travelling in an almost-empty wagon that the train pulls anyway, is crazy.

Will let you know how things go on the next ride. Possibly overnight to the Moz border. Saves the weekend for Moz, you know ...


Paul Ash

** Back to West Coast Report **

** Back to Touring Navigation **   ** Articles Archive **

October 2004.

According to Gus Barbosa getting bikes down to Cape Town via train has become a lot easier. Him and his crew have done it twice - easily and without incident. They suggest you phone Group Reservations 011 774 5244 and speak to Helleen Sauer

Bedding is now R50-00