The International Steam Pages

Steam in South Africa

There are many preservation sites in the country which are not in the sphere of activity covered by this site. The Sappi Saiccor paper mill operation is the last 100% working steam in the country although arguably at harvest time the Sandstone operation is 'real' too.

George - Knysna museum railway

There is a museum at George and there was scheduled steam operation on the line to Knysna, but as of early 2012 the service has been suspended for some time.

Sandstone Estates

Trevor Heath found this one for me, the Sandstone Railway - - big plans for the conservation of steam locomotive workings in South Africa, I understand (10th June 2001) that they are now using their internal narrow gauge system for hauling crops, a brand new industrial steam railway! I now have a report on this from Geoff Pethick with a picture of their Lawley 4-4-0 at work (12th January 2003). Sandstone hold regular open days for 2ft gauge steam enthusiasts, watch out for news of such events on their web site. The existing 12km route (see report below) is to be extended to 14km to offer a large loop at the north-west end with spectacular new views and so obviate the need to turn or turn round locomotives (8th June 2005). Click here for a map to show the extension. The railway has a full programme of special events through the year and you should check with their website for more current information.

Sandstone are now restoring one of the 600mm gauge Feldbahn 0-8-0T from the Sena sugar plantation in Mocambique - a locomotive that has been exported twice to Africa. Click here for the full story and pictures (10th May 2005). 

Geoff Pethick has posted further news (29th September 2003). Dennis Moore has now sent me (2nd August 2004) the stocklist of the railway, an absolutely astonishing private collection of classic railway equipment. Further, Dennis adds: "The new extension of 3 km or so is now operational and NGG11 55 reached the new terminus on a trial run early in July, and again with a more substantial load on the morning of 24 July. (Open wagon with tractors, another loaded with timber, fruit van, coach, compo brake). The O&K tank loco and one of the NGG16s was also in use on 24 July. A lengthy mixed train behind the NGG11 and NGG16 operated in perfect evening light later that day. The extension is even more scenic than the existing 13 km. The NGG11 will be transferred to the Paton Railway based on Ixopo, Natal in the near future. Earlier in the year (observed during February), the railway was significantly used in conveying wheat and possibly other produce from the fields to the silos. This can (depending on from where harvesting is taking place) involve some quite lengthy runs. All sorts of locos have seen use on harvest haulage in the past 3 years: NGG16, NG15, NG6, Sezela, Sandy (Fowler tank), possibly others I don't know about."

Alfred County Railway

The news from the Alfred County Railway could not be worse despite the optimism expressed below. Trevor Heath tells me (15th June 2004) that Spoornet have forced closure of the railway over the non-payment of debts. I have since heard that the whole railway including the locomotives was being put up for auction in mid-September 2005 (16th September 2005), very sad.... Since writing this, things took a definite change for the better when (as Paul Ash reports, 6th April 2006) "Julian Perreira (of Paton Country Narrow Gauge Railway) has been granted a temporary 'permit' (I don't know what else to call it) to operate the Banana Express from Port Shepstone to Izotsha (Km14). Anyway Julian has grand plans including operating trains with a tank loco in the spectacular Wilsons Cutting section near the top of the line. But, they had a rollover with NGG16 151 two weekends back when the train ploughed into a landslip, resulting in serious dents to the loco. No injuries, thankfully, but not the kind of incident one needs at this fragile time in private SA steam operations. Right now two locos (151 and 127) are in service, plus a UVE 2 (ex-sugar estate 0-4-0T)."

Earlier it was reported that the Alfred County Railway was about to completely return to steam according to Charlie Lewis via Trevor Heath (29th September 2003) "We are proud to report that steam in the shape of NGG16 #127 returned to service on ACR today. As soon as cosmetic work on #127 has been completed we shall turn our attention to #156. As this has been an emotional time for us perhaps we can be forgiven a little hyperbole. We shall soon be sending Spoornet's diesel back to them, whereupon - as far as we know - ACR and the Harding line will once again be Africa's only all-steam common carrier railway" Further news comes from the same sources (5th May 2004) - "With joy we announce that the ACR is once again a multiple steam-engine company. For the first time in more than six years we now have two engines in steam - #127 and #151 - the latter running under her own power for the first time in 13 years. Roelf van Wyngaardt, our Master Mechanic in every sense, says she is in excellent condition mechanically. After completion of running-in adjustments and cosmetic work (among which is a new cab roof) she will go into revenue service within the next two weeks. After record-breaking Summer and Easter holiday seasons for the Banana Express we shall need a third engine soon. It has already been decided that this will be #116, one of the 1939 series NGG16s, as we have permission from her owners."

Sappi Saiccor paper mill at Umkomaas

Paul Ash tells me (25th January 2003) that diesels are now working freights on the George - Knysna line, which leaves the following operation as the only regular non-tourist steam experience in the country. "The Sappi Saiccor paper mill at Umkomaas on the KwaZulu-Natal South coast owns three 19D 4-8-2's, nos. 1 (ex-Spoornet 2697, Borsig 14748/38), 2 (ex-Spoornet 2633, Skoda 928/38) and 3 (ex-Spoornet 2767, Robert Stephenson Hawthorn 7280/47). All the locos are in clean, blue livery, and include one of the country's two operable domeless-boiler 19D's. One loco is in steam daily, hauling timber and stores on a 3km branch from the Spoornet exchange sidings at Umkomaas to the mill. With the end of steam on the daily George-Knysna freights, Saiccor's 19D's have the bittersweet honour of hauling the last regular steam-hauled freight trains in South Africa. Photographic possibilities are limited by a pipeline which runs alongside the line, but there is a good high angle shot from the N2 road bridge which crosses the line a little way up from the mill. But the drivers are friendly, apparently. Visitors need a permit from Sappi to take photos inside the mill complex.  Thanks to Railways of Southern Africa Locomotive Guide for loco information." Alan Sewell has sent me an illustrated report of this operation which dates mainly from November 2005 but confirms things were largely unchanged in July/August 2006 (30th August 2006). 

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General Reports

Donald Bell was back again in January 2002 (added 26th January 2002). I have abstracted the main steam items of his report which includes residual industrial activity and a visit to the Sandstone Heritage Trust with its extraordinary collection of steam locomotives and other industrial/agricultural items. This page also contains some other 1999/2000 reports. Donald Bell was a regular visitor to the country and sent a report of a June 2000 visit (added 8th September 2000).  Sad news (15th January 2003) was that Donald died suddenly just before Christmas 2002, I had visited him at home in Bath on a couple of occasions and he had contributed to our Zafra CD-ROM, but more importantly he had provided some pictures of the Zambesi Sawmills Railway for the Safari Steam CD-ROMs.

Rob Dickinson