The development of rail transport in Limpopo (then, the Northern Transvaal) began with the construction of the first railway line between Pretoria and Pietersburg (now Polokwane), opened in 1898. This line was extended northwards to Louis Trichardt (now Makhado) between 1911 and 1913. This was further extended to Messina (now Musina) in 1914, and across the Limpopo River to Beit Bridge in 1927. As such, it provided an international connection to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) but traffic had to move by road to points north.
In 1974, a new line was opened from Beit Bridge to Rutenga on the Rhodesian rail line from Somabula on the line to the Mozambique border and Maputo. Finally, in 1999 another railway was constructed from Beit Bridge in a north westerly direction to West Nicholson, formerly the southern end of a branch from Bulawayo. This provided a third route for traffic between South Africa and countries to the north and it generated larges tonnages of new rail traffic. This was, however, at the expense of the original line via Mafikeng through Botswana and has been the subject of much debate as the original intention was to route traffic through Botswana between points north and the Cape has not been fully honoured.
The first branch line, constructed from Pienaarsvivier to Settlers was opened in 1906 to serve the agricultural potential in the area. A second branch was opened from Pretoria North in present-day North West Province to Rustenburg in 1906. This was extended to Northam and Middelwit in 1929 and Thabazimbi in 1934, all situated in present-day Limpopo. From Thabazimbi the branch was extended northwards to Ellisras. (now Lephalale) Two purely agricultural branches were opened in the 1920's. The first ran from Naboomspruit (now Mookgophong) to Singlewood, opened in 1924, and extended to Zebedielia in 1928. The second branch, running from Nylstroom (now Modimolle) to Vaalwater was opened in 1925. Both of these branches linked with the Pretoria - Polokwane mainline. Finally, the Pienaarsrivier - Settlers branch was extended to Tuinplaas in 1923 and Marble Hall in 1934.
Another significant arterial route, is the line from Kaapmuiden to Tzaneen and Groenbult, where it intersects with the Pretoria - Beit Bridge main line. This was originally projected in the 1890's as the Selati Railway as part of a plan to exploit minerals in the Murchison Range. After many delays it was opened in 1909 to Newington, extended to Hoedspruit and Tzaneen in 1912, and through to Groenbult in1915. A branch was later opened from Hoedspruit to Phalaborwa in 1963 to exploit copper and phosphate deposits. Giving consideration to the large volumes of bulk traffic anticipated it was decided to re-route the southern portion of the line to avoid the Kruger National Park. The new route from north of Newington to Kaapmuiden was opened in 1971.
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