Trying to make rail tourism really work in this country is not a job any sane person would want, surely? Certainly not when years of begging letters, meetings, deputations and entreaties are reduced to nothing but dust when an irreplaceable piece of rail history and once-viable tourism asset is turned into scrap?
A while back, I wrote in this column about the vandalism done to the dining-car Protea, a once-beautiful wooden saloon that had once carried royals and presidents and which had later been stripped and turned into a mobile “rave” coach by the very people entrusted to preserve it.
Protea has spent the last few years marooned in a siding in Cape Town, waiting for to be restored to its original – that is, preserved – condition.
Well, say goodbye. The latest news is that her diamond frame (the area in red in the photo) has been cut for scrap, destroying the structural integrity of the coach. It is now good only for scrap money, and not much of that either.
The news from George is slightly better. The Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe tourist train, which has been shut down for some months, is due to start running again on October 19.
The train’s original route from George to Knysna was cut by floods and landslides in 2006 and, given the size of the repair bill, is unlikely ever to reopen. Since then, the train has been running between George and Mossel Bay, but its future is far from certain.
Transnet wants to rid itself of all its non-core assets, and this steam-powered albatross is near the top of the list.
There have been prolonged negotiations with a whole slew of entities, including the Western Cape government and local tourism bodies as the hunt for a new operator continues. A couple of expensive feasibility studies have been done but Transnet has yet to make these public.
Any potential operator has a large problem. With the George-Knysna line probably closed forever, it means the operation has to continue on the route to Mossel Bay. This, however, is a Transnet Freight Rail line, and TFR do not like and do not want steam trains (or any private tour trains, for that matter) on their rails.
That is the elephant in the room and the carpet won’t hide it.
Protea photo: Courtesy of Les Pivnic Collection
So sad to see Protea end up in that state. Over the last few years railway preservation stalled as the ones in the know were too concernced scoring own goals! Now the hot air has subsided and we are left with the dismal results!
Good news from George though! I understand that the trains will be hauled by diesels due to the ongoing drought. However class 32 vintage diesels are just as good as steam locos.
The tragic state of this valuable living heritage lies squarely at the feet of the powers that-be in Transnet, whose shortsightedness have and continued to cost this country – amongst others -much-needed jobs, community and economic development through the protection and preservation of a vital tourism ingredient. And, that is just one aspect. What about the fact that a vital segment of our history is being reduced to a pile of rust while they play their games.
I remind them of the words of Eliza Doolittle … “Just you wait ????, just you wait… you’ll be sorry but your tears will be too late…”
Name them and shame them (although their skin is thicker than a Sherman tank). The Rave train was organised by Timothy George and approved by Vusi Nchunu of Transnet Heritage Foundation. Timothy George was the wonder consultant brought in to “Africanise” the Union Limited. Fortunately I was able to provide thousands of overseas and local tourists and train enthusiasts with many happy hours on the Union Limited with many meals in the magnificent Protea before the slaughter happened.
In my very minor involvment in this sorry saga I have asked questions of Tammy Evans about the possiblilty of applying for World Heritage Site status.
Having been to many of them around the world, the George Knysna line is better qualified than most!!
I have absolutely no idea whether or not there is a financial advantage in WHS status but polititions may feel extra responsibility towards such an internationally recognised asset.
It is just criminal. No respect for history, and what is more perplexing, no acknowledgement of the huge tourist drawcard that properly run tourist railways offer. How about Sunday trains at George?
No matter how hard we appeal its gets stopped by goverment, its the same in the telecoms industry where we need cheaper broadband access which should be a right for every citizen.
Back to the steam trains, the coaches that the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe hauled need a serious re-furbish. Lets hope the OCT takeover by a new buyer does not get steam rolled into the deal not happening.
Took a video of the momentous occasion of the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe running on the 19 Oct 2009. Youtube Clip http://bit.ly/4mC4Tz
Well said Ian.Believe it or not Timothy George is now Marketing Of The Blue Train.Is it headed the same way?