Keep SA’s railway heritage alive

IN response to the letter, “Tell readers about rail line options” (November 15), South Africa is such a magnificent country in terms of our scenery and cultures, and we have such unique opportunities. One sector in our country which I believe has mountains of potential is our country’s railways and heritage rail.

We have such scenic rail routes, and rolling stock and locomotives which are unique to this country and which I believe hold much hidden potential waiting to be unlocked.

Travelling by train is one of the most relaxing ways to travel.

You’re not driving the train, you can sit back, enjoy time with family and take in the scenery as it passes by.

If you have a steam engine up front, you get that old-fashioned smell of coal smoke and steam, and once you hear the blast of the whistle your inner child is released. One particular railway line which could give you a rail experience second to none in the world is the Knysna-George railway line.

Dating from 1928 and declared a railway line for steam preservation on July 3 1993, this railway line has deep roots in South African history. It has sadly been out of commission since 2006 due to flood damage, but on the positive side, actions are in place to investigate the economic viability of the line.

But one particular organisation is determined to have the railway ripped up and turned into a cycle track. This is railway murder.

This railway line has been in the hearts of millions across the globe and now the Garden Route Cycleway Association wants it to suffer this fate. The Garden Route is a very open area, but they choose to push to have their cycle track in the rail reserve.

Is it just because the infrastructure is already in place? Trains are for everyone, and not just the dedicated few who own a bike.

The Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe itself might not have made so much money directly, but what about all the indirect income, from people staying in hotels or going to restaurants? The train also created an atmosphere along the Garden Route, something which a cycle route cannot.

You say that if the line is scrapped it won’t make a difference to people personally, but my dream and passion is to be involved in the South African railways and heritage rail, and if we just left every rail line to fall into ruins, what would we have left? I commend The Herald on keeping the name of the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe alive.

Friends of the Choo-Tjoe is an organisation formed by citizens in the Garden Route to lobby the necessary authorities to reopen the Knysna-George railway line and reinstate the Choo-Tjoe. Even though I am not a member of this society yet, I still fully support its cause.

To date they have restored a SAR inspector’s trolley at their own expense to promote their cause. This trolley can be found at the Knysna waterfront near the station.

A rail-related use must be found for the line.

South Africa still has a few steam trains remaining in service: Reefsteamers and Friends of the Rail in Gauteng, Atlantic Rail in Cape Town, Umgeni Steam Railway and Patons Country Narrow Gauge Railway in KwaZulu-Natal and Sandstone Steam Railway in the Free State. If South Africans want to see steam in the future they must support the trains while they are operating and not wake up once they are dead.

South Africa is moving back to rail, Metrorail in Cape Town is top class, and the service offered by Shosholoza Meyl has really improved. In one week I heard of two pleasurable experiences aboard the Shosholoza Meyl.

It’s time to lose the negative stigma of our railways and begin to be a country that also uses the train. It’s time to go back to rail, so get on board or be left at the station.

Justin Wood, Port Elizabeth

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