Wildlife and Roads Project


South Africa has Africa’s most advanced rail network which connects all the major cities. These lines cross a variety of landscapes from urban developments to agricultural farm land and wildlife conservation areas, often bringing trains into conflict with wildlife.
Almost no attention has been paid to the threat this poses to the country’s biodiversity and the people using the rail network.

Few global studies exist that examine the impacts of trains on biodiversity and most data are taken from state or provincial rail administrators. A four month study in Norway (Gundersen & Andreassen 1998) found 466 moose killed by trains highlighting a concern for passenger safety. In South Africa, data collected by Pongola Game Reserve over a 10-year period, found 17 elephant killed by trains on a 30 km section of track with further anecdotal data concerning Black and White Rhino. Wildlife was also found with limbs amputated by trains as they attempted to cross the track (pers. comms. Kohrs, H. Pongola Animal Clinic, 2013).

A search on Google Scholar using the words ‘roadkill’ and ‘railkill’ revealed 15,800 results for roadkill and only 13 for railkill, highlighting a vast paucity of data for studies that examine the impacts of railways on wildife. Of these 13 studies, one was conducted in American Samoa (and focused on birds), the second in Norway, with the other 11 in North America, focusing on large mammals (e.g. Black Bear and moose). Collisions with smaller mammals and birds are also poorly documented, with no baseline data available at present for South Africa.


  • South Africa has the 10th longest rail network in the world and all of South Africa’s major cities are connected via rail.
  • Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) has a 20 247 km rail network, of which about 1 500 km comprise heavy haul lines. The network connects the ports and hinterland of South Africa as well as the rail networks of the sub-Saharan region.
  • TFR infrastructure represents about 80% of Africa’s rail infrastructure. It operates freight trains, serving customers in mining, manufacturing, agriculture and containers.
  • The South African Rail Commuter Corporation (SARCC) infrastructure and assets comprise 478 stations, some 2 240 km of electrified single-rail track and 4 564 coaches.
  • Trains currently account for 14% of all public transport.

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.

This situation demonstrates the urgent need for such an assessment, especially considering the rail plan infrastructure developments laid out in the National Development Plan: Vision for 2030.