The announcement was made by Mr Mawethu Vilana, who is deputy director-general for integrated transport planning with the Department of Transport. "The future of rail is high speed," says Vilana.

Trains could run at speeds of up to 400km/h on standard-gauge tracks to achieve journey times which would be competitive with air. Johannesburg is 722km from Durban by rail which makes it a likely priority for high-speed rail, while Cape Town is 1530km from Johannesburg by rail making it too great a distance for a commercially-attractive service.

In the meantime, Vilana says the focus for Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) is to increase the maximum speed of passenger trains on the 1065mm-gauge network to 140km/h or even 160km/h.