Will the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe be making a come back?
GEORGE NEWS - Rail enthusiasts are all fired up about a brand-new railway service that came into operation in August this year in Ceres, where a consortium of fruit farmers formed a private public partnership with Transnet for transporting fruit from Ceres to Cape Town.
Over weekends from this month onwards, passengers will be able to travel from Ceres to Wolseley and Prince Alfred.
In the meantime, the stalwart Voorbaai railway technicians have been hard at work getting locomotives in working condition again.
They are now working on the vintage 19D steam engines. According to a well-informed source, a few steam locos have been set aside for use on the George/Knysna line. So it would seem that the hope that steam locomotives have been holding onto for the George to Knysna service to be reinstated, is not entirely far-fetched.
When approached for comment Mike Asefovitz, senior manager of external communications and corporate affairs at Transnet Freight Rail, said, "Transnet is currently following its internal governance processes and it is too early to make an announcement. We are also not in a position to commit to a date by when an announcement will be made. I trust you will understand our position. As we have stated before, we will communicate once we are in a position to do so."
Earlier on this year the George and Knysna municipalities were still engaged in talks about transporting household waste by rail. Transnet, who owns the rolling stock and property, would be a partner in the venture along with other private investors.
For many years figures and business plans have been bandied about, but no bank guarantees have so far been forthcoming. It has been said that the project could only be a viable proposition if a freight service is brought into the picture because the service could not survive on passengers alone.
This may be so but many Garden Route marketing brochures and tourism websites continue to keep their Outeniqua Choo-Tjoo photos or emblems - almost as if it is a cherished icon.
In the most recent Outeniqua Railway Society Newsletter, Editor Casey Nootenboom wrote, "For some time now, discussions have been taking place between Transnet, Ceres Rail Company and Witzenberg Municipality to explore the possibility of reintroducing rail services.
"Once an agreement was reached, the line was brought back into running condition quite quickly and the first test train of empty containers was run on 3 August. A train of empty passenger vehicles was run on 20 August and on 26 August it departed fully booked. The first commercial load was sent out several weeks later. The traffic is mainly fruit destined for Cape Town docks.
"Ceres Rail Company acquired a number of carriages that were used on the Union Limited tourist train stabled at Voorbaai. These were moved to Wolseley some time ago. They were once a familiar sight on the George Knysna line, being headed normally by a 19D and a GMA. They have also bought a number of 19Ds and a 19B and these are under restoration at Voorbaai under the direction of Bobby Redman.
"The first one (to be named Jessica) has had its boiler hydraulically tested and has now been tested in light steam, moving under its own power for the first time in 11 years. Ceres Rail Company hopes to have a passenger service up and running by the end of October 2015."
ARTICLE: PAULINE LOURENS, GEORGE HERALD - JOURANLIST
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