The Port Elizabeth Apple Express - NG Express Bi-monthly Newsletter - September 2009
The Port Elizabeth
Apple Express

NG Express Newsletter


NG Express

Postnet Suite 124, Private Bag 13130, Humewood, Port Elizabeth

February 2010


REPORT BACK by Nerina Skuy.

All I can say is WOW! The Apple Express had a very good season - without a single incident at Humewood Station!
Hats off to Manie (the Apple “man on the station”), Transnet and the NMBM security services as their vigilance ensured we did not add to any negative publicity or statistics over the holiday season.
If you’ve been there lately you would have seen the "cosmetic surgery" to the Humewood Station sign. We are currently in the process of completing a Risk Management profile regarding a new departure point for the Apple Express, but the finalisation of the outcome would only be known further into the process.

The Apple Express saw an increase in passenger numbers in comparison to the 2008/9 season period, despite the challenging economic climate.
December 2008 – January 2009:
A total of 2235 passengers travelled over the December 2008 – January 2009 season. 1948 paying passengers on 17 trips is an average of 115 passengers per trip. 146 tickets were issued to non-paying passengers (toddlers and complimentary vouchers to charity and NGO groups).
December 2009 – January 2010:
A total of 2402 passengers travelled over the December 2009 – January 2010 season. 2115 paying passengers on 15 trips is an average of 141 passengers per trip. 287 tickets were issued to non-paying passengers (toddlers and complimentary vouchers to charity and NGO groups).
We embarked upon a specific strategy last year to attract local (South African) tourists – our “bread and butter” and it worked. We applaud the “stay at home” tourists from Port Elizabeth who came to experience the Apple Express – some came not once or twice, BUT thrice because it was such a great experience!
The Marketing & Sales office – Travel Route 62 – handled a challenging transition of new staff and increased enquiries with aplomb… sometimes working till after 11pm on the night before a train to accommodate late bookings and/or payments. Thank you for your commitment and dedication.
A special thank you to Justin Wood who has done us proud with his excellent reports and photographs documenting as many trips as possible – the Apple express now has a regular page (The Narrow Gauge Diary) in SA Rail, which as many will know is distributed worldwide by subscription.
In closing I would like to quote from my favourite source of wisdom – the Holy Bible – “Let’s not grow weary of doing good…” because if we see doing duty on the Apple Express as work, we can become weary. This is a wonderful legacy… let’s see it as doing good!
Nerina Skuy

Passengers viewing the train bridge crossing.

THE PROPOSAL ……Report by Peter Burton

A couple of trips ago we had an occasion in the middle of the Van Stadens Bridge.
It was noted earlier that one coach compartment had been nicely decorated for the two occupying passengers.
While crossing the bridge a young chap suddenly dropped down on bended knee and made a marriage proposal to his young lady. The young lady accepted much to his delight but amazingly the rest of the passengers so intent on looking at the scenery, they did not notice the tender moment happening in front of them.


The following pictures tell a sad story of the Humewood Road narrow gauge steam depot. What looks like earthquake damage is in actual fact the slow destruction of the old steam workshop sheds by both weather and vandalism.
The Apple Express Company does not have the financial capacity to maintain these buildings as well as looking after its main objective of restoring narrow gauge rolling stock. Transnet who own the buildings are not interested, as they only see the area as a prime site for future upmarket development. Latest observations are that the buildings are already in the process of being demolished. Let us hope that at least the elevated water supply tank for the steam locomotives may be spared. Who knows maybe in a hundred years time the depot will be resurrected as a historical site by some enterprising business person.

Just after I had written the above a relevant article appeared in The Herald newspaper. Here is an extract:-

“Transnet Chief Executive Chris Wells has told a parliamentary committee …..a detailed report on the future of branch lines would be released shortly…....The branch line plan will spell out how Transnet plans to concession the routes and it has already called for transaction advisers for this process.
As far as Port Elizabeth is concerned much of the focus will fall on the Apple Express.
The narrow gauge railway is not regarded as viable for Transnet although it carries 31 500 tons of freight annually.
In a bid to save the line and expand its freight and tourist operation, the East Cape Transport Dept. has established a R62 Corridor Development Working Group.
The objective is to keep the line operational……
The Provincial Transport Dept. has also drawn up plans for the development of a major transport hub at the derelect Humewood narrow gauge terminal site, providing an interace for road, rail, air and sea traffic, which could serve as a major tourist destination and transport terminal.”

Let us hope that the bid to save the line is implemented soon because even now things on the Patensie section of the line are not looking so good. Because of vandalism and theft the Gamtoos – Patensie branch line has been closed to rail traffic. Sometime ago after an inspection of the line, it was discovered that fishplates had been removed on a section of the line. These were replaced but a recent inspection has revealed that the fishplates have once again been stolen as well as plenty of steel sleepers. Presumably having been sold for scrap.


Unfortunately the sentiments expressed in the last newsletter about having NG 15 No. 124 ready for steaming as soon as possible did not materialise. Problems with obtaining parts and getting parts made have seen work on the loco all but cease. The main parts needed before work can continue are the steam header and fifteen superheater elements. It was hoped that some of the old elements could be rescued and refurbished but in the end it was decided to use new piping instead. Hopefully work on the locomotive can resume in the near future.


Originally six narrow gauge diesel locomotives were put up for tender sale. It was rumoured that Australia had secured the successful bid but then for some reason the deal was cancelled. Instead some of the locomotives that were earmarked for disposal have been sold to someone in Gauteng (Johannesburg) for possible sale to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Presumably they will be re-gauged for use on their railway system.


The restoration of passenger coach no. 82 has been completed and is back in service. Thanks go to Piet Van Rooyen, the resident coach builder and his enthusiastic band of helpers. They have produced a first class restoration job on this coach. It was originally used as a 3rd Class coach with cramped and uncomfortable seats. The inside has been redesigned, with the use of a more comfortable bench style seating arrangement. The outside colour scheme has been painted in the old SAR colours for use on a special consist to be used for special rail tours for steam enthusiasts. Also as part of a special mixed train consist for rail tours, refurbishment of some freight wagons is being carried out. The wagons being worked on are an original insulated fruit carrying wagon and an old cattle wagon.

Cattle and fruit wagons being refurbished

(Some of the inside insulation can be seen on the inside of the open door in the above picture).

In the workshop 3rd Class passenger coach no. 83 is currently being refurbished. This coach is a sister to coach 82 but was in a worse condition. The interior was painted in an unsightly pale green colour and all the wooden seats were unpadded and extremely uncomfortable to sit on. Like coach 82 it will be stripped and rebuilt in a similar comfortable padded seating arrangement.

U.S.A. VISIT ………… Report by Peter Burton

Earlier in October 2009 I had been approached by a group of six American railway enthusiasts for a possible tour of the Apple Express operation. It turned out that the group were in fact Directors of the Indiana Railroad Company who would be visiting South Africa during January 2010. They were interested in riding on the Apple Express behind a steam locomotive. Unfortunately no train was scheduled on the day that they would be in Port Elizabeth and also it was pointed out to them that because of the prevailing drought, no steam power would have been available.
However because of their enthusiasm and high profile status a steam shunting operation was arranged between the diesel depot and the Baakens River terminus. Loco 119 was in any case due for a test run. The group also enjoyed a tour of the workshops to see work in progress on loco no. 124 and on passenger coach no. 83. During discussions, they became interested in the suggestion that the 1916 American Baldwin loco NG10 no. 16 be returned to the Apple Express line, its original home. The loco is currently undergoing restoration in the Sandstone Estates workshops in Bloemfontein. They also suggested that they could possibly assist with fund raising in the USA for the completion of the loco and transport costs to return the loco to the Avontuur line.

Editor: Clive Fife

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