GEORGE NEWS - Hope has been revived that the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe will ride again between George and Knysna.
The Outeniqua Power Van's outings into the Outeniqua Mountains are also expected to be on track again soon.
The line between George and Oudtshoorn has been lying dormant ever since 4 000 sleepers were damaged in the fires in November last year. This has had a significant impact on operations of the Power Van, which had to redirect its outings to the line between George and Mossel Bay.
The Rovos Rail route was also affected by the fire damage on the Outeniqua Mountain line, but Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) spokesman Mike Asefovitz told the George Herald that a contract to repair the line in the mountain area was awarded recently. "The progress is on track and the line should be fully functional by mid-August this year," he said.
Nicol Marais, Power Van operator, welcomed the repair work that is at hand and said he is hopeful that the track will be ready by the end of the year.
TFR's acting CEO Lloyd Tobias sparked renewed hope regarding the George-Knysna line being restored in a video interview published online two weeks ago by Railways Africa. He said TFR intended to upgrade and prepare the line for tourism and concessions. TFR's strategy for the coming year includes a strong focus on upgrading lines and expanding Transnet's "back to rail" strategy aimed at transferring road freight to rail.
The popular tourist Choo-Tjoe steam train service between George and Knysna came to an abrupt halt after serious flood damage to the track in 2006.
Efforts involving politicians and people in high places to get the line repaired have been fruitless. A concessionaire for the George-Knysna line was appointed a few years ago, but plans to open a new tourist train service have not come off the ground. The plan was to first restore the line between Knysna and Keytersnek (near the Rheenendal turn-off on the N2) and get a tourist train up and running, before tackling the line to George for the reintroduction of the Choo-Tjoe. More details regarding the plans for the line could not be obtained before the newspaper went to print.
'Legacy worth billions'
Marais stressed the importance of repairs and maintenance of the railways in the region. "We have three lines from George and they are a huge asset. It is not just about getting the Power Van to run, but about other passenger trains that bring people to George, as well as freight trains that provide relief for our roads. It is a legacy worth billions for future generations."
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