The Outeniqua Choo-tjoe train.
The Outeniqua Choo-tjoe train.

Steam train back on track if funds permit

Time of article published Sep 23, 2011

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Neil Oelofse

Garden Route Media

THE iconic Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe steam train may soon be reinstated if Transnet is able to find the money to operate it.

The steam train used to be the Garden Route’s most popular tourist attraction, running between Knysna and George, but floods in 2006 severely damaged the railway line through the Kaaiman’s Pass.

”Transnet is considering operational and funding options for the reinstatement and reconnection of the Choo-Tjoe line,” said Transnet spokesperson Mboniso Sigonyela yesterday.

“Should the steam operation be favourably considered, the facilities to … support such a service would be essential.”

Sigonyela said the Transnet Heritage Museum in George was considered an operating asset and would remain open.

However, the country’s biggest rolling stock refurbishment depot at Voorbaai near Mossel Bay, where the Choo-Tjoe was maintained, was no longer operating but would remain in Transnet’s ownership. A task team is investigating various operational models, including forming partnerships. Transnet would not be drawn on whether the damage to the rail line at Kaaiman’s would be repaired to allow the service to run between Knysna and George again.

The other options are to transport the rolling stock through Kaaiman’s by road in order to run the Choo-Tjoe between Knysna and Wilderness or to resume operating on the line between George and Mossel Bay.

When Transnet investigated the damage, it was estimated that repairs and an overhaul of the coaches would cost around R130 million.

Western Cape Finance MEC Alan Winde said yesterday he was determined to see the train back in operation.

“The Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe is a critical tourism and heritage asset of the Garden Route region and, despite several setbacks, I remain determined to get it back on the tracks. In a recent meeting with the new CEO of Transnet, Brian Molefe, we once again raised our request to take over the line so that we can get the Choo-Tjoe running again. We were told that Transnet was reconsidering its options and would revert by the end of October. We are looking forward to their response,” Winde said.

The Choo-Tjoe used to attract up to 150 000 rail enthusiast tourists a year and was making around R10m a year on ticket sales, but Winde says the project could raise even more money if additional attractions are developed.

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