R/€ = 14.34
R/$ = 10.68
Au 1294.20 $/oz
Pt 1463.50 $/oz
Nov 23, 2007
South Africa features prominently in history of rail transportBack
Canterbury|Cape Town|Construction|DURBAN|Harbour|Johannesburg|Liverpool|London|Maputo|Paris|Pretoria|Queen Elizabeth|Wellington|Africa|Gautrain|Locomotives|PROJECT|System|Africa|Germany|Mozambique|South Africa|Switzerland|United Kingdom|Zimbabwe|Channel Tunnel|Corinth Canal|Durban Station|Gautrain|London Hotel|Paris Hotel|St Pancras Station|Then Travel|Transport|Malaria|Cape Town–Wellington|Eastern Cape|English Channel|Gautrain|Charles Brown|Elizabeth|Gautrain|Jack Van Der Merwe|Paul Kruger|Power|Rail|Richard Trevithick|Locomotive|Locomotives|British Columbia|Eastern Cape
© 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So, although trains have been around for a while, they certainly are not out of date.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)
Other Dr Kelvin Kemm News
Updated 7 hours ago While the global economy continues to battle growth headwinds as it slowly emerges from a lingering post-recessionary phase, the greatest inhibitors to South African economic development are largely domestic and within government’s control, Finance Minister...
Updated 7 hours ago Building materials firm Infrasors said on Friday that FD Marius Potgieter, who had occupied the position since July 1, 2009, had tendered his resignation and would leave the company with immediate effect. Construction supplies manufacturer Afrimat FD and Infrasors...
Updated 7 hours ago Telecommunications group Telkom on Friday announced that, following extensive facilitated consultations and deliberations, management and organised labour had reached consensus that the company’s current restructuring process would proceed. “The parties have...
Recent Research Reports
Real Economy Year Book 2014 (PDF Report)
This edition drills down into the performance and outlook for a variety of sectors, including automotive, construction, electricity, transport, steel, water, coal, gold, iron-ore and platinum.
Real Economy Insight: Automotive 2014 (PDF Report)
This four-page brief covers key developments in the automotive industry over the past 12 months, including an overview of South Africa’s automotive market, trade figures, production and the policies influencing the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Construction 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the construction industry over the past 12 months. It provides an overview of the sector and includes details of employment in the sector, infrastructure and municipal spending, as well as insight into companies’...
Real Economy Insight: Electricity 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the electricity industry over the past 12 months, including details of State-owned power utility Eskom’s generation activities, funding and tariffs, independent power producers and prospects for the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Road and Rail 2014 (PDF Report)
This six-page brief covers key developments in the road and rail industries over the past 12 months, including details of South Africa’s road and rail network and prospects for both sectors.
Real Economy Insight: Steel 2014 (PDF Report)
This four-page brief covers key developments in the steel industry over the past 12 months. It provides an overview of the global and South African steel and stainless steel markets, South Africa’s major steel producers and events that have shaped these markets.
This Week's Magazine
South African construction company Group Five says work on the rehabilitation of the 800 km stretch of the Plumtree–Mutare highway, in Zimbabwe, should be completed by the end of this year. Giving evidence before the Parliamentary Porfolio Committee on Transport...
The Space Operations division of the South African National Space Agency (Sansa) revealed on July 17 that it had supported the successful launch of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite on July 2. The...
Phase 1A of Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya bus rapid transit (BRT) system should carry around 42 000 people a day, while it was been expected that Phase 1B, rolled out last year, would add another 60 000 daily passengers. However, the entire system is currently carrying...
A stormwater project in Bedforview, east of Johannesburg, has stalled for eight months after project managers in the Ekurhuleni municipality resigned and municipal managers were placed on special leave without designating replacements. Construction to reinforce the...
The design of the Beit Bridge border post is the biggest impediment to efficient freight movement between Zimbabwe and South Africa, says Cross-border Road Transport Agency CEO Sipho Khumalo. Beit Bridge is the busiest border post in Africa. A research study on the...
Next ArticleAfrican conditions need African solutions