Take a look at these two photos. The first shows the railway dining car “Protea” on a fast express back in the day when dining cars were the centrepiece of South Africa’s crack passenger trains.
The second shows her as she is today, lying stripped, vandalised and dumped on a siding in Cape Town where Transnet’s “heritage” operation keeps its historic – and previously valuable – coaches.
“Protea” entered service on the South African Railways in 1933, working on the Union Limited and Express trains – the forerunners of the famous Blue Train. She fed the Royal Family during their official visit to South Africa in 1947, and remained in service until she was handed over to the SAR Museum for preservation in the 1970s.
On the 1947 Royal Train. That’s General Jan Smuts on the right, facing the camera. PHOTO: Les Pivnic collection
As a cherished and loved museum piece, the classic dining car formed part of the consist of the steam-hauled Union Limited tourist train which operated around South Africa throughout the 1990s.
On the Orange Express C.1950: Photo SAR /Les Pivnic collection
In recent years, however, Transnet has decided to get out of the tourist train business – they can’t make money from it and it gets in the way of their “core” freight operations. At the same time, Transnet have made it increasingly difficult for private tourist train operators to have access to the network.
Dumped at Salt River today, with windows torn-out. PHOTO: Dylan Knott
One of the Transnet Heritage Foundation’s loopy attempts at earning money involved hiring out some of its historic vehicles for a “Rave Train” around Cape Town. For this, “Protea” and a few other historic coaches were gutted – windows were torn out to make way for air-conditioning units, that kind of thing – and turned into mobile nightclub with sawdust on the floors. At the time, promises were made that “Protea” would be restored to original condition, promises that turned out to be nothing more than hot air and bluster, judging from the recent photos.
What a disgraceful end for a once-magnificent piece of mobile South African history. Sadly, Protea is just one of many victims – many other historic locomotives and coaches which were preserved in running condition have been destroyed – dumped, cut up for scrap, burned in fires started by vagrants or stripped by thieves.
These were all assets that could have generated significant tourist revenue for South Africa, a country which was once high in the world rankings as a rail tourism destination. Now they’re gone forever, and so have scores of rail tourists.
As the first of many who will follow me may I congratulate on your piece dedicated to “Protea”.
Besides being a very historic dining car may I add that it was her colours which was then carried to the rest of the train,so one can say that today’s Blue Train (and those before)owes her colours to “Protea”.
Tears are falling from her as are those who made her into a Gracious Lady of the Spoor and now see her lost and abandoned!
Thank you, Paul. Indeed a tragedy! But that’s not the only one. This is being repeated elsewghere too. Just to see the deterioration of supposedly safe, “donated in good faith”, heritage railway equipment at SANRASM near Krugersdorp is just as tear-jerking.
Well-run preservation clubs, like Friends of the Rail and Reefsteamers, amongst others, would have given their eye-teeth to look after items like this. But they were never given a chance.
The sad fact is that the overall lack of funds and resources for such preservation, coupled with public apathy, bureaucratic bunging, ineptitude and an apparent total lack of responsiblility and will by Transnet has created this situation. And, despite this poignent pictorial message, there is usually no reponse and little to no improvement in the situation.
Many heritage items, just like this dining car, are essentially now well past past any reasonably possible restoration.
“Struggle” heritage apart, I foresee that in less than a few years, little heritage will remain for future generations of South Africans to experience. SA is condoning the squandering and vandalising of its history.
This is not an isolated incident, those tasked with preserving our rail heritage are doing a lousy job of it. Witness the neglect that is happening at the so called “South African National Rail and Steam Museum” based in Randfontein.
Witness the decay of Phantom Pass, a half balcony diner and Sashi….
It is claimed that the two carriages at The Siding, on the farm Arcadia, Ladybrand district,
were once part of the royal train (the white Train), in which the British royal family toured southern Africa, in 1947.
It there any way of verifying this claim ? and if so, how could it be done ?
I trust that the FOTR forum will be able to answer your question. I’ll do some digging as well.
I posted to the FOTR forum a piece of research done by G.Pethick in 1970 which confirms the presence of two coaches at Ladybrand (nrs 8197 and 8200) – he does not say where. The Siding’s website says that the coaches have been refurbished to accomodate 28 people in luxury. I do not know what they have done (I have not seen them at all) but it might be a huge hope to find them remaining in original Royal Train configuration and condition.
Correction… research done in 2007 not 1970!
Truss frame of Protea has been cut. This means there is no hope for the coach. RIP Protea!
well maybe not the end if a suitable sponsor could be found to lift this coach off its chassis,or n closer inspection,i have the original drawings of many coaches,etc,donated to me years ago could possibly still make a plan,im a qaulified Railway Engineer with 20 years in Railway Engineering and ive dealt with repairs,refurbishments to all types of rolling stock,locomotives in Africa,it wont be just a matter of lifting it off its chassis,it has to have a special crane frame made up for a twin crane lift in its current condition,but yes its possible,the cost in rands,depends on what is going to be the costs in keeping it restored to its original condition,and if it can be used,replacing coach frames depending on condition of entire coaches structural integrity soley depends on how much it will cost to repair,and is it worth repairing such a coach in the current economic climate?
I think you sum it up nicely: is it worth repairing? And who will stump up the cash?