sharper radius than would otherwise be possible:
witness the virtual right-angle bends on the
Avontuur line, such as that immediately west of
the Van Staden's Bridge today.
problems beset the construction work.
Port Elizabeth ratepayers will be amused to hear
that the expenditure of £2 500 per mile voted by
Parliament soon rose to £3 800. necessitating a
further Act to ratify the excess.
was not until May 1902, that tracklaying proper
commenced, because neither rails nor sleepers
had arrived in the interim.
Station Street, adjacent to the main broad-gauge
Port Elizabeth station, a miniature platform was
built for the narrow-gauge trains.
New Year, 1903, trains started running to the
banks of the Van Stadens Gorge, passenger
traffic being confined mainly to sightseers
travelling at the weekends.
construction of the steel bridge across the Van
Stadens Gorge was no mean undertaking in 1901.
Still the highest narrow-gauge bridge in the
world and the highest carrying any railway in
South Africa, the deck is 77 metres above the
bridge across the Gamtoos River was of timber,
with a total length of 1466 metres. This was
replaced later by a steel bridge.
railway was opened to
November 1, 1905.
was operated as a separate undertaking from the
South African Railways proper. The
Superintendent was J. R. Moore, who was
virtually independent, being responsible only to
the General Manager.
Moore subsequently became General Manager of the
South African Railways.
a public timetable which appeared early in 1906,
weekend excursions were advertised, and return
trips offered for the price of a single ticket.
trains left Port Elizabeth at lpm on Saturday,
arriving in Humansdorp at 7.30pm.
return journey started at 9am on Sunday but
included a 4½ hour stop at Gamtoos Station, from
where a passenger launch took sightseers for a
21 kilometre journey down the river to its
those who decided to stay over for the week, the
Cape Government Railways supplied boats and
tea was served at Thornhill Station both on the
outward and inward journeys.
personal activities during the lengthy journeys
had to be timed for these stops, because it was
not until 1916 that toilet facilities were
introduced on the trains!
were officially restricted to 20 kilometres an
hour in those days (40 kilometres per hour is
the official limit now), but the outrageous
speed of 22,5 kilometres an hour was permissible
if it was necessary to make up time, provided
that this could be done safely.
in 1907, the terminus station at Avontuur was
a meeting held. in December, 1905, the residents
of Walmer authorised the Town Council to
negotiate for the building of a railway to
connect them with Port Elizabeth.
so on December 15, 1906, a branch line was
opened from Valley
Junction (opposite today's airport,
running by way of what is 2nd Avenue
today, Villiers Road, 5th Avenue and
Water Road to a terminus at 14th
the end of the line, two sleepers
were chained to the track to
discourage locomotives from
similar to those used on buses were
issued on the Walmer train, books of
coupon tickets being sold to regular
maintain a schedule calling for the
journey to be completed in 30
minutes, the maximum speed had to be
worked up to 40 kilometres an hour.
trains, ran to Walmer every day, but
the number of passengers was
insufficient to cover operating
costs and this the Municipality of
Walmer had to make good.
Hankey branch of the narrow gauge
from Gamtoos Station was opened to a
terminus at Patensie in April, 1914.
the branch railway to Hankey was
finished, goods were brought down
the Gamtoos River to the station by
was a proposal at one time for
extending the Hankey line to
Andrieskraal, which would have
involved the only, narrow-gauge
tunnel in South Africa, but this
extension did not materialise.
much produce was coming down the
line by 1917 that there was
insufficient rolling stock, and
narrow-gauge trucks were brought
down from South West Africa to
December, 1912, the railways settled
matters with Walmer by accepting a
lump sum of f700 and thereafter
relieving the ratepayers of the
obligation to make good the
was an unfortunate move, because
with the introduction of a bus
service between Walmer and Port
Elizabeth in 1925, patronage of the
trains fell off very seriously.
Walmer branch showed a loss of £1382
in 1926-27 and on November 26, 1928,
the trains stopped running.
engines were scrapped and the
coaches sent to South West Africa
(more closely connected with Port
Elizabeth than is generally known!).
1920, the first Garratt locomotive
was put to work on the Avontuur
Garratt is a design especially
suited to this type of operation, as
it is able to bend in two places
within its own length.
has two separate sets of cylinders
and driving wheels, with a
larger-than-usual boiler slung
between. The result gave nearly
double the hauling capacity of the
ordinary single, engine, but only
needed the same number of men to
other Garratts followed, and with
them came a new design of driver's
seat one which could be swung out
from the cab, so that the men could
actually ride on the outside of
their locomotives, which was a
considerable blessing in hot
1927, a 20-kilometre branch line,
privately owned, was laid from
Chelsea to the new works of the
Eastern Province Cement Company,
south of New Brighton.
for the cement works was brought
down from Patensie in
African Railway trains to Chelsea,
where the cement company's own
locomotive took over the load.
limestone ran out - in 1934.
quarries came into use near Loerie
Station, -to which point the stone
is transferred to this day by an
passenger services ; were
substituted by buses shortly after
the war, there was a special medical
service along the Avontuur railway,
the doctor having a special coach
attached to an ordinary train
between Port Elizabeth and
Humansdorp on Fridays, and between
Humansdorp and Avontuur on Mondays.
attended to the families of railway
staff members who served at outlying
trains were scheduled to make
special stops at gangers' cottages,
to take their children to and from
the fruit and other traffic
generated by the Avontuur railway
became too vast for it to handle.
enormous expense which would have
been involved in paying for a broad
gauge railway could not be
justified, however, and so road
transport vehicles have been used to
augment what is probably one of the
most intensively trafficked
narrow-gauge railways in the world.
January and June, the "fruit
season"-an endless succession of
trains runs up and down the line,
every available vehicle and
locomotive being pressed into
1960, the narrow-gauge in South West
Africa came to an end, all its
trackwork having been replaced with
a broad-gauge railway.
again, the Avontuur line benefited
by gaining a wide variety of trucks
and coaches, including unique
sleeping cars in which the berths
were arranged to lie,, along the
length of the vehicle, and even one
the curves were too sharp for these
vehicles, which were scrapped.
From South West, the Avontuur line
also gained a number of locomotives
which have become known locally as
few years ago, following efforts by
the Port Elizabeth Publicity
Association through Director-
Cynthia van der Mescht, occasional
passenger trains were revived
between Humewood Road and Loerie.
the mainline coaches took on a new
and brighter livery of maroon and
grey, the tiny Avontuur coaches
of the intensity of traffic during
the fruit season, the special
passenger trains to Loerie are
operated only during July to January
and then only, at present, if a
minimum of 100 passengers is
enthusiasts still come to Port
Elizabeth from all over the world,
to see what is one of the longest
narrow-gauge railways still in
existence, but also to see a
collection of steam locomotives,
both broad - and narrow-gauge, of, a
variety which cannot be seen
the coming of the diesels will
change this, it will still be a
railway with a unique character,
performing useful work.