Although an extensive rail system based in southern Africa reaches up from Durban as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo and East Africa, most of the subcontinent’s railways are disconnected lines reaching inland from ports and serving small markets by modern railway standards (see figure).
Most networks outside South Africa still operate with their original facilities, with little upgrading. Most lines are low-speed, small-scale, undercapitalized networks carrying low axle loads. They are ill-suited to modern requirements.
Many structures and some of the tracks are now more than 100 years old. Long sections of track on most rail systems need repair or replacement. In some systems, major sections are not in operation and require rehabilitation before operations can resume. Even where there is service, poor track conditions force speed restrictions, cutting the productivity and competitiveness of rail freight. Manual signaling is still used on many networks.