This was the scene yesterday after a steam-hauled tourist train carrying 627 people derailed near Cullinan after thieves removed some 40 wooden sleepers during the night.
Barring a few minor cuts and bruises, no-one was hurt as the train, operated by Pretoria-based steam club Friends of the Rail, was travelling very slowly when it derailed on the approach to Cullinan station.
The locomotive – which dedicated volunteers spent many years restoring to working order – was substantially damaged.
Sleepers “tie” the rails to the trackbed. Without sleepers, the rails would spread and topple under the weight of a train – which is what happened yesterday. Because the sleepers sit in a “ballast” of stones, it is almost impossible to see from the locomotive cab if they are missing.
Sleeper theft is one of South Africa’s hidden scourges. The sleepers, made from hard Australian yarra wood, are highly prized for making furniture – and sometimes for firewood – and in recent years, railway lines all over SA have been targeted by sleeper thieves. Some lines have lost so many sleepers that they have been closed since the cost of replacement has been deemed uneconomic.
Yesterday’s derailment happened on a line that sees many tourist trains during the year. The thieves don’t really care about the consequences, either for innocent passengers or for tourism as a whole. The cost of repairing the locomotive will be a heavy burden for the club which receives no funding other than what it earns from running tourist trains. The cost of repairing the damaged track will run into many thousands of rand – and Transnet is not keen to spend money looking after lines that are not part of its core network.
So, for the sake of a few hundred rands, a viable and growing tourism business gets a kick in the head. Meanwhile, because sleeper theft has a direct and punitive effect on the state of SA’s transport infrastructure, any investigation should examine the supply and demand chain. Where are these sleepers going and why?
PHOTOS: The top picture shows the locomotive, 15F No.3117, lying on its side after the derailment, top, and the bolts have been unscrewed and the sleepers slid out from under the rails, below. PICTURES: Courtesy of Friends of the Rail
Ai these hooligans, always making SA look bad for their own pockets! Wish goverment will pass harder punishment on criminals…
Sad. Watch SA go downhill after the World Cup. It is actaully sick and every penny I have goes straight off shore. Let Africa burn and suffer!!
Yes, Doug June 21 at 12:32 – . Check your spelling before you make ignorant statements in a public forum
Totally agree with you Doug. Same as copper theft, all leaving the country…
Patrick, what on earth do you mean by “make ignorent statements”? What part of Doug’s post would you describe as “ignorent statements”? Maybe if you explain, I will understand.
A brilliant methaphor for South Africa and Africa as a whole. The RSA flag on the front of the locomotive very fitting.
I guess this is also apartheid’s fault! My God, why are we such an evil nation where personal profit trumps the safety of hundreds of unsuspecting, innocent people?
…just one more reason SA will NEVER have high-speed rail like Europe…very sad
Remember those sleepers might be sold to white-owned furniture businesses who might know and don’t care where the sleepers are coming from. So who’s REALLY stealing from whom?
Think the only mistake is having been so positive, paying taxes, working hard and contributing to SA society as a corporate citizen. Enough from me.Thought Patrick’s contribution was splendid!! Must work in the Govt in which case he must be watching a football match. Huh?
Psst. You can make really nice rail sleepers from concrete. Nobody is going to steal those.
These days, they do. But it would cost a pretty bundle to re-sleeper every mile of the network, which is why it hasn’t been done.
If crime was virtually absent in ZA then a theft like this would be investigated and brought to a stop. Because crime is so rampant in ZA the cops look at this and yawn because it is so insignificant compared to their everyday working lives.
In the past, people would only have stolen every 4th or 5th sleeper. These days crime is so bad the criminals rip the ring out of everything…………..hey that rhymes, I could make a “freedom song” from that one for Juju
Thieves like that need to be caught and brought to book! Maybe one should start by investigating businesses that manufacture and sell sleeper wood furniture, but would there be a way of determining where and how they procure their sleeper stocks?