Generally, Namibia's trains cater better for freight than visitors (Desert Express excepted). Although there is an extensive network of tracks connecting all of Namibia's main towns, there is no through service into South Africa – the only passenger train to cross the border terminates at Upington, where there is no through connection into the South African rail network (the next mainline station, De Aar, is 415km away).
The dedicated Starline passenger rail service is run by TransNamib. Trains are pleasant and rarely full, but they are slow and stop frequently. Travelling by train is not for those in a hurry, and most travellers without their own vehicle prefer long-distance coaches or hitchhiking.
With the exception of the routes from Keetmanshoop to Upington, and Otjiwarongo to Tsumeb, all train journeys are overnight. This means that there's no chance of enjoying the view, but, on the plus side, it allows travellers to get a night's sleep while in transit, saving on accommodation costs and perhaps 'gaining' a day at their destination. Carriages are divided into economy and business sections. There are vending machines dispensing snacks and soft drinks on most trains, and videos are shown through the journey.
Passengers need to check-in half an hour before the train departs. Only two pieces of luggage may be carried free of charge; bicycles are not allowed. There are sleeper beds on the Windhoek–Keetmanshoop line.
Overall, fares for TransNamib's trains or buses are low, averaging around N$54 for 500km on the trains, but the tariff can appear amazingly complex. There are various combinations of two classes of travel, three different tariffs (off-peak periods, peak periods and high-peak periods), and occasional discounts (33%) for travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There is in fact a grid that underlies the pricing structure; once you have decided on the various components, then it's just a matter of checking your journey against that grid. Copies are available at the station in Windhoek.
All Starline trains and buses may be booked at any station. Main station telephone numbers are as follows: Gobabis
tel: 061 298 2305 Omaruru
tel: 064 570006Grootfontein
tel: 067 249 2210 Otjiwarongo
tel: 067 305202Karasburg
tel: 063 270090 Swakopmund
tel: 064 208512Keetmanshoop
tel: 063 229202/229230 Tsumeb
tel: 067 298202Lüderitz
tel: 063 201200 Walvis Bay
tel: 064 208504Mariental
tel: 063 249202/249200 Windhoek
tel: 061 298 2032; Okahandja
tel: 062 503315
The Desert Express
The Desert Express
was introduced in 1998, the result of years of planning and work. The whole train was designed, built and fitted for this trip. It offers a luxurious overnight trip with interesting stops en route, and currently makes the journey between Windhoek and Swakopmund twice a week, with different stops in each direction.
Check-in is 90 minutes before departure, and if you've free time around Windhoek station then take advantage of the free entry to the Transport Museum (see page 156).Westbound
, it leaves Windhoek on Tuesday and Friday afternoon at 14.30 (15.30 in summer). After about an hour it reaches the Okapuka Ranch, where travellers disembark for a short excursion to see the ranch lions being fed. Continuing on the train, a sundowner drink and nibbles are served before an impressive dinner, after which the train stops in a siding, Friedrichsfelde, for the night. It starts moving early in the morning, catching the spectacular sunrise over the desert and passing through the Khan Valley before stopping in the dunes between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, for travellers to take a short walk in the desert. It arrives in Swakopmund at 10.00 after a good breakfast. Eastbound
, it departs from Swakopmund on Wednesday and Saturday afternoon at 13.00 in winter (first Sunday in April to first Sunday in September), or 14.00 in summer. After a few hours it stops at Ebony siding from where passengers are transported to Spitzkoppe, where there's a chance to explore in search of rock paintings, or have a sundowner drink. Everyone is back on the train about three hours later, after which dinner is served. At 08.00, the train reaches Okapuka Ranch for an hour's stop to see the ranch lions being fed, before continuing with breakfast and arriving at Windhoek station by 10.00.
The Desert Express has 24 air-conditioned cabins (making advance booking vital). Each is small but ingeniously fitted: beds that pull down from the walls, washbasins that move, and various switches cleverly hidden away. Each has its own en-suite facilities and will sleep up to three people, though two in a cabin is perfect. It's a super way to be whisked between Windhoek and Swakopmund in comfort, perfect for a trip's start or end.
Bookings can be made through good overseas operators, local agents, or direct to Desert Express, P Bag 13204, Windhoek; tel: 061 298 2600; fax: 061 298 2601; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.Rates: N$1,950 single, N$1,500 per person for two people sharing a cabin, and N$1,080 per person for three people sharing a cabin. This includes excursions, dinner and breakfast.