Can you believe it’s been 12 years since this steam train ferried tourists and locals for 67 kilometres between Knysna and George, choofing across broad estuaries, rattling through pine plantations and dappled indigenous forest, huffing and puffing alongside cliff edges, and skirting shimmering lakes?
It was in August 2006 that the train ground to a halt after serious storms and floods washed away a section of the railway line above Dolphins Point at Kaaimans Pass, just beyond Wilderness, with yet more flood damage inflicted in February 2007 elsewhere on the rails.
Did You Know? The hugely photogenic Kaaimans River railway bridge, with its curved colonnade of concrete pillars, is known as a “donkey bridge” — back in the days when donkeys were used to transport goods, bridges were constructed across rivers to create a shortcut for the heavily loaded beasts.
THE SWITCH GEAR
Please let me make it quite clear … the images in this Post are not intended to highlight the deterioration of the train and railway in a derogatory way, but rather to view the rust and peeling paint through an “artful eye“. Since we moved to Knysna seven years ago, I’ve been fascinated by the oxidised and blistered switchgear — little cartoon people leaning drunkenly forward rigid in rust; signage that’s folded and faded; images warning us of speed and puffing trains that no longer run.
TRAIN CARRIAGES (OUCH!)
Since 2007, it has been left to initiatives such as Friends of the Rail, various willing railway authorities, an independent Dutch support group, crowd-funding, and now Classic Rail to foster Herculean efforts to resusitate the much-loved train service.
Choo-Tjoe’s future is presently in the hands of private initiative Classic Rail (“preserving classic rail in South Africa’s Garden Route & Klein Karoo”), led by development engineer Alan McVitty. To read what they’ve been up to in the past 12 years, click here www.outeniquachootjoe.com
In the meanwhile, I give you a timeline of where the fabled Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe presently stands:
16 Feb 2016
Transnet Freight Rail finally awards Classic Rail a 20-year concession on the George—Knysna line. Occupation of the line permitted 16 Feb, access for repairs June 2016. Bridges across Knysna Estuary inspected by bridge engineers: line between Knysna and Sedgefield found to be largely intact; sections of line between Sedgefield and George require major repairs.
14 Jun 2016
Announcement of a 2016 Dec-opening Dinner Train between Knysna Station and Keytersnek (near Rheenendal turnoff on N2), once line is restored. Involves 100-ton classic Class 32 diesel locomotives, four restored dining carriages and two freight cars to be converted to open viewing carriages. New restaurant planned at Knysna Station, incorporating historic Governor General’s Private Saloon, built in 1931 next to station platform.
A revised business plan by Classic Rail accepted by Transnet Freight Rail. 20-year concession still requires final support and approval from Transnet Freight Rail board and Transnet Group board, among others; thereafter final approval from Minister of Public Enterprises.
Late May 2018
Knysna’s Waste-by-Rail site (next to TaitMarine) cleaned up and fenced off, as the four flat-deck rail wagons were a shelter for the homeless. Effected by Transnet Freight Rail (grass and vegetation cut and cleared); Knysna Municipality (wagons shunted); and Classic Rail (railway tracks made passable, fences erected).
28 Oct 2018
Transnet were to celebrate 90th anniversary of the opening of the original George—Knysna track, their aim was to get the first services operational on this date. NOT SO MUCH…