Citing "financial strains," Prasa says its long-distance passenger train operators Shosholoza Meyl and Premier Classe have each dropped two loss-making train services. Shosholoza Meyl trains would no longer run between Johannesburg and Messina on the Zimbabwe border and between Johannesburg and Komatipoort on the Mozambique border. The semi-luxury Premier Classe train will no longer run between Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth while a monthly service between Johannesburg and Durban has also been cancelled.

Just seven Shosholoza Meyl routes and the Premier Classe route between Johannesburg and Cape Town have survived the cuts, although the number of trains running each week on the routes between Johannesburg and Durban and Port Elizabeth have also been reduced.

Prasa said cost coverage on certain routes was below 20%.

South Africa's passenger train services have been steadily whittled away for years, with the advent of cheaper and more efficient minibus taxis in the 1980s, along with the recent growth of no-frills airlines, there have been sharp declines in the number of people using long-distance trains.

Matters have not been helped by the government's decision in 2010 to cut Shosholoza Meyl's operating subsidy, leaving the train operator to fund operations through ticket sales alone.

The announcement follows the unveiling of Prasa's first 4000-series diesel locomotive in Cape Town this month, which are due to begin entering service in March and will replace elderly and unreliable locomotives handed down from Transnet Freight Rail.