R/€ = 14.95
R/$ = 14.07
Au 1073.42 $/oz
Pt 841.50 $/oz
Nov 23, 2007
South Africa features prominently in history of rail transportBack
© Reuse this When driving between Pretoria and Johannesburg, I have passed large construction sites that penetrate deep into the ground – they are the start of the Gautrain project.
I am pleased to see that the digging has begun.
Also in the last few days, in London, Queen Elizabeth officially opened St Pancras station as the new hub of the extended Channel Tunnel train. One can now take a taxi from a London hotel to St Pancras station, then travel to Paris by train, under the English Channel, and then take another taxi to a Paris hotel.
So, although trains have been around for a while, they certainly are not out of date. In fact, the first recorded use of rail transport was circa 500 BC, when ancient Greeks operated a rail system to carry boats across the approximate route of the current Corinth canal. They probably used horses or humans as the power source.
Modern railways developed from wooden mine railways, on which wagons were pushed by hand or pulled by horse. The first recorded were in Germany, about 1430. The first use of iron rails was on the Coalbrookdale–Horsehay railway, in England, in 1767.
By 1804, Richard Trevithick, of England, had built the first steam locomotive and it ran on the Peny-Darren ironworks railway. In 1830, in England, the world’s first regular steam railway passenger service was inaugurated by Canterbury & Whitstable Railway.
In 1860, South Africa’s first steam train ran from central Durban to the Point, in the harbour area. The large Durban station that was built years later is still visible, in that its main building is preserved as a national monument.
I travelled by train from that station often. Next time any reader goes near that old station building, he or she should have a look at the roof – it is very steep, and was built that way so that snow would not build up on the roof and cause a collapse. The architects were Canadian!
Three years after the Durban train, in 1863, the world’s first underground railway line opened in London. They must have been courageous engineers to take steam locos underground. Anyway, in the same year, the Cape Town–Wellington rail line was completed.
There were other South African innovations and, in the Eastern Cape, a crippled signalperson trained a baboon named Jack to operate the signal system, which he did most days. Part of Jack’s wages included two glasses of brandy over the weekend.
In 1890, the first railway on the burgeoning Witwatersrand goldfields, known as the Rand Tram, ran from Boksburg to Randfontein. It was called ‘tram’ to try not to threaten the many horse-drawn tram operators, who felt very edgy about the new steam machines.
By 1892, only seven years before the Boer War started, the line between Cape Town and Johannesburg was opened to traffic. There certainly was no such long line in England at the time – that was one huge South African achievement.
At the same time, the line from Beira, in Mozambique, to Zimbabwe was being built, but the death rate from malaria was staggering. In 1892, and also again in 1893, 60% of the workers died each year, mainly from malaria, but some were eaten by wild animals. It was much easier to build the London–Liverpool line.
The guys worked on rail like crazy in those days and, at the same time that the Beira line was being built in 1893, the railway line from Maputo, in Mozambique, crossed the Transvaal border into South Africa. Transvaal President Paul Kruger later used this line a great deal to bypass the British forces.
As the Boer War broke out in 1899, Charles Brown, of the company Brown Boveri, in Switzerland, built the first ac electric locomotive. In 1925, the first South African electric locomotives came on line, while we were also running some of the biggest steam loco- motives in the world, pulling some of the biggest trains.
Worldwide, the train business continued to develop and South Africa now has some of the best railway engineers in the world, guys as straight as a rail, and as tough as . . . well, rail nails.
South Africa now runs the world’s largest and heaviest train on the 860-km Sishen–Saldanha line. In 1989, it set a world record when it comprised 660 wagons plus tank and caboose and 16 locomotives. It was 7,3 km long.
I made a TV movie on this train and recall that the locos would start moving and, quite some time later, the caboose at the end would move because of all the slack in the coupling, that had to be taken up.
It also had radar-controlled brakes. The radar watched the sleepers – the idea was that all the locos and trucks had to brake at the same time. You could not have the front stopping before the back, with 69 393 t rolling along.
I can’t wait to travel on the Gautrain, so maybe Jack van der Merwe, of the Gautrain, should offer free soccer tickets to any crew that finishes ahead of schedule.
Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu© Reuse this Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor
Other Dr Kelvin Kemm News
Updated 22 minutes ago If Home Affairs has to make concessions for a flagging tourism sector‚ the Department of Tourism must share how it is “assisting government to keep South Africa safe and prosperous”. Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba appeared to make this subtle stab at his Tourism...
Updated 36 minutes ago The Motsepe Foundation has committed about R117.5-million to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) for sports and music development at schools across South Africa. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga received the donation from the foundation’s cofounder and...
Updated 50 minutes ago China is set to announce new aid to African nations when President Xi Jinping visits Zimbabwe and South Africa next month, a senior Chinese official said on Wednesday. The trip is likely to boost China's relations with Africa, which supplies oil and raw materials...
Recent Research Reports
Water 2015: A review of South Africa's water sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Water 2015 Report considers the aforementioned issues, not only in the South African context but also in the African and global context in terms of supply and demand, water stress and insecurity, and access to water and sanitation, besides others.
Input Sector Review: Pumps 2015 (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s 2015 Input Sector Review on Pumps provides an overview of South Africa’s pumps industry with particular focus on pump manufacture and supply, aftermarket services, marketing strategies, local and export demand, imports, sector support, investment...
Liquid Fuels 2015: A review of South Africa's liquid fuels sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Liquid Fuels 2015 Report examines these issues in the context of South Africa’s business environment; oil and gas exploration; fuel pricing; the development of the country’s biofuels industry; the logistics of transporting liquid fuels; and...
Road and Rail 2015: A review of South Africa's road and rail sectors (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Road and Rail 2015 report examines South Africa’s road and rail transport system, with particular focus on the size and state of the country’s road and rail infrastructure and network, the funding and maintenance of these respective networks, and...
Defence 2015: A review of South Africa's defence sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Coal 2015 report examines South Africa’s coal industry with regards to the business environment, the key participants in the sector, local demand, export sales and coal logistics, projects being undertaken by the large and smaller participants in the...
Real Economy Year Book 2015 (PDF Report)
There are very few beacons of hope on South Africa’s economic horizon. Economic growth is weak, unemployment is rising, electricity supply is insufficient to meet demand and/or spur growth, with poor prospects for many of the commodities mined and exported. However,...
This Week's Magazine
Additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing, has the potential to completely change the relationships between individual consumers, professional designers and manufacturers. So argued Loughborough University Reader in Computer Aided Product Design Dr Ian...
Airbus Defence and Space: Military Aircraft has highlighted that its A330 Multirole Tanker Transport (MRTT) has significant commonalities with the Airbus A330-200 commercial airliner, upon which it is based. The South African Air Force (SAAF) once operated a fleet of...
Financial services provider Nedbank launched the second edition of its Carbon Footprinting Guide earlier this month, which is aimed at demystifying carbon footprint approaches and help readers grasp the main concepts of carbon measuring, monitoring, reporting and...
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of Caterpillar’s first backhoe loader. This also coincides with the worldwide release of its latest-generation F2 series backhoe loader, which was launched at supply chain services company Barloworld Logistics’ Big Dig Day in...
A shortage of software engineers is leading to fewer information technology (IT) projects in private and public sector organisations. This also places a dampener on the economy, as IT is an integral part of business and civil service, says University of Witwatersrand...
Next ArticleDon’t dismiss Noakes diet plan out of hand