Railway Touring Company Union Limited Charter Photos and Report
14th June 1999
Bloemfontein to Bethlehem with 25NC 3454

Spent a very pleasant day on Saturday (14th) chasing the UL charter from Bloemfontein to Bethlehem. Started pre-dawn at Bloemfontein loco, where 3040, 857, 876, 3450 and 3454 were all in steam. The ex-REGM GMAM at the loco shed looks almost complete, it has been steam tested and run within the yard, and is in the process of being transformed from REGM blue to SAR black. This loco will go to Voorbaai in about 6 weeks, by which time it will be complete. There are no working GMAM's at Voorbaai at present.

3454 departed the shed with a caboose just on sunrise. First shot was near Shannon, as 3454 climbed up from Renosterspruit. The train was a fair bit late, but looked great under a lovely steam trail which formed the flat, wide shape which is characteristic of 3454's exhaust.

Next stop was Sannaspos arrival at the semaphore, the loco barking up from the bridgeinto the station. A runpast was held at the station, then I took the departure shot of thetrain passing the signals at the junction to Aliwal North, again quite nice with morning light and steam effects.

Another shot further on at Likhathlong from the road overbridge. The train stopped at Thaba Nchuto clean fire take water from the lovely old tank there. Next shot was a long pan at Rooifontein where the line skirts the Thaba Nchu mountain before dropping to Waghorn. Past Waghorn there was time for 2 more snaps before driving ahead again to catch it just short of Westminster, then arriving at Marseilles. Another stop for loco requirements, then a runpast just out of the station near the silos, followed soon after by another runpast at the cutting, about 1km further on, opposite Fragment Farm.

Taking the dirt road towards Modderpoort, got a fairly standard shot of 3454 climbing up to Hoogfontein, then we drove ahead to catch it at Kilmarnock. After a couple of wrong turns, we all finally made it up to the cutting north of Kilmarnock, where another runpast was staged. After 3454 stopped to collect the passengers, she sounded fantastic picking up the load on the gradient and tight curves, struggling through the cutting and gradually picking up speed.

Took a grab shot near Clocolan, but the high grass and lack of time to "garden" made it hard. Next stop was the beautiful gorge at Meulspruit, the exhaust beat echoing loudly through the valley as 3454 worked hard hauling up the grade, across the bridge and through the curves. This section of line is amazing, the country it manages to traverse. Shortly afterwards the
train reached Ficksburg, where a lengthy stop was made for water and fire cleaning, and also for the gricers involved to top up their stomachs and petrol tanks as well.

Just out of Ficksburg, another great pan of the train steaming through the fields, with some of the scenic Free State sandstone hills behind. A runpast was held at Sekonyela, then we got another shot shortly afterwards at Vailima. Another shot at Ionia, where the loco was down to walking pace on the 1 in 50 by the time the summit had been reached. It was obviously the
highlight of the locals' day!

A runpast was held at Generaalsnek, but due to my running past the turnoff, I missed it. The sun was quite low already, and we decided that Meynell would have been a bit risky, so we went on to near Fouriesburg. The train arrived just in time for a shot, then proceeded to Fouriesburg where some quick shunting was done to place the engineers caboose behind the loco from the back of the train.

We drove on to Sheridan, at the top of a long climb from Fouriesburg. The sun had dipped below the mountains by the time the train appeared, but it was still a great sight. 3454 battling to hold traction up the grade, each sharp exhaust beat echoing off the mountains. After a 10 minute feast of steam sight and sound, 3454 navigated the huge horseshoe bend and topped the grade in fine style, the locals again turning out in droves to watch. 3454 disappeared with her train into the advancing darkness towards Bethlehem as I contemplated the long drive back to Pretoria...

The train was to continue to Kroonstad that night, then head to Bloemfontein behind 3040, then change locos to 876+857 for the run to Kimberley, then on Monday the Red Devil south from Kimberley (to De Aar I guess?)

All photographs copyright 1999 Trevor Staats

25NC 3454 Shannon
25NC 3454
25NC 3454 Sannaspos Arrival
25NC 3454 Sannaspos
25NC 3454 Sannaspos Station
25NC 3454 Sannaspos
25NC 3454 Sannaspos Departure
25NC 3454 Sannaspos Departure
25NC 3454 Thaba Nchu
25NC 3454
Thaba Nchu
25NC 3454 Marseilles Departure
25NC 3454
25NC 3454 Kilmarnock
25NC 3454 Kilmarnock
25NC 3454 Meulspruit
25NC 3454
25NC 3454 Sandstone
25NC 3454
25NC 3454 Sekonyela
25NC 3454
25NC 3454 Vailima
25NC 3454
  25NC 3454 Ionia
25NC 3454
  25NC 3454 Sheridan
25NC 3454

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