OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE PORT ELIZABETH APPLE EXPRESS
Postnet Suite 124, Private Bag 13130, Humewood, Port
GOING - 100 YEARS – GONE
maybe not. Let us hope that the current efforts to save
the narrow gauge line to Avontuur will be successful.
Although Spoornet is losing Millions of Rand every month
keeping the line open they are still making an effort to
prevent the complete shut down of the line by putting
into place feasibility studies to try and ascertain the
value of the line. In recent years Spoornet have been
closing down many branch lines around the country that
have proved unprofitable to run with the Langkloof line
being one of them under consideration. To illustrate, at
certain times of the year, except during the Citrus
season, the Apple Express constitutes the bulk of the
traffic on the whole length of the line.
At a recent feedback meeting of the Government
instituted feasibility study group, they reported that
after meeting with various interested groups in the
Langkloof, the feeling was very positive in retaining a
reliable train service especially in the area
surrounding Humansdorp. It was found that most of the
school children in the area attended school in
Humansdorp and are being transported by road. Humansdorp
also has the biggest hospital and medical facility as
well as the main legal entity in the area and anyone
wanting to make use of these facilities have to use the
roads to get there. In an effort to save money on
repairing the road infrastructure the Government would
like to encourage rail traffic.
For the Government to make money
available for the upgrading of the line and the
reintroduction of a regular rail service, the local
community would have to be serious about making use of a
rail service. Only then if considered feasible, would
the Government be prepared to hand over the maintenance
of the line including buildings to Local Government who
would in turn lease traffic operation to private
enterprise. If this happens, the Apple Express operation
has been assured of financial backing by corporate
companies and also the National Lottery Fund. The
resistance to this funding has all always been that the
train is a Government asset and private enterprise
refuses to invest into a Government asset.
So it is now up to the feasibility study group to come
up with some positive and persuasive arguments to
convince the Government to hand over the line.
Among various ideas that have been suggested to boost
the argument for the reintroduction of a regular rail
service could be the establishment of a Rail Academy
that would see the training of railway staff who when
qualified could be integrated into the Spoornet rail
system. Also because of the vastness and sparsely
populated country the line covers, the possibility
exists of a mobile medical clinic and maybe even a
mobile library which would be of benefit to the local
community living close to the railway line.
December 10th 2006 slipped by rather quietly but that
wasn’t the case 100 years ago when the final railway
tracks were laid at the terminus of the Langkloof line
at Avontuur. It was a momentous occasion celebrated in
It had all started 3˝ years earlier in Port Elizabeth
when construction commenced on a railway line 177 miles
in length which was destined to cover formidable terrain
consisting of steep gradients, very tight bends and one
of the deepest gorges in the world of narrow gauge
railways. All in all a magnificent accomplishment and a
monument to the engineers and labourers who worked on
the line. Let us hope that their blood, sweat and tears
will not end up in some scrap yard.
Almost simultaneously and five days later on 15 December
1906 a branch line to the small municipality of Walmer
The small but expanding community of Walmer desperately
required a cheap, reliable transport system to the
business centre of Port Elizabeth. Up until then the
only means of getting to the central business district
was by wagon or walking.
||The line proved very
profitable for the more than twenty years that it was
operational, running nearly twenty trains a day between
the main Port Elizabeth railway station and Walmer with
its terminus at Fourteenth Avenue.
It was only when a private bus service was introduced
and profits started dwindling, did the railway
authorities see the writing on the wall and a few years
later in 1928, the inevitable decision was taken to
close the line and lift the rails.
Water Road - 14th Avenue Terminus as it is today
The restoration of
passenger coach No.58 is complete. Once again Clive
Nel, our coach builder, has done a magnificent job.
Coach No.58 (Bristol Carriage & Wagon 1904) has
joined her sister coach No.57 in time for the
holiday season rush making an additional eighteen
passenger seats available.
Clive Nel putting the finishing touches to coach
Let us hope that all the passengers who travel in
the coach will appreciate all the hard work that has
gone into restoring this historic coach.
The other “sister” coach No.59 will hopefully be
brought in for restoration in the near future.
Interior of restored coach No.58.
NGG 16 Garratt No.131 has been performing
extremely well lately. She underwent a routine
boiler inspection a few months ago and everyone held
their breath seeing that the summer holiday season
was just around the corner. Besides a few minor
faults the boiler past the inspection.
The time is fast approaching though when she will
have to undergo a major boiler inspection and
It is amazing to note that since she was restored in
1999 she has clocked up over 17 000km.
Stripped Kalahari NG 15 No.119 (1939) is awaiting
the supply of new boiler tubes. After much
searching, both locally and overseas for a company
who could supply tubes to the correct specifications
and at the best rates, a steel company based in
Johannesburg was found that is able to supply a set
of tubes. It is hoped that the refurbishing of the
locomotive can begin soon after the summer holiday
Over the years our core base
of volunteers who man the train has slowly been
diminishing and to prevent a problem over the
holiday season, an appeal was made in the local
press for volunteers. This resulted in an
encouraging response from the locals as well as from
a few applicants further afield. The new volunteers
have fitted in well and have shown much enthusiasm
and interest in the train. Their eagerness to help
is much appreciated.
The Apple Express has
been working hard over the December/January holiday
period which ends when schools reopen on 17 January.
Thereafter we return to the two or three trips per
month schedule unless there is a demand for more
For the record books stats for 2006 show that 52
trains were run, carrying a total of 7365
This is an increase of 14 trains and 2958 passengers
over the 2005 year period. The increase was in part
due to the introduction of the short Chelsea
Junction trips during the year. Sixteen of these
short trips were steam powered earlier in the year,
and then diesel power was used for the rest of the
year. The Chelsea trips have been very popular with
schools, not only from Port Elizabeth but also from
Somerset East, Grahamstown and Jeffery’s Bay.
Thanks to Peter Burton for supplying additional
information for inclusion in this newsletter.