A group of Port Elizabeth-based railway enthusiasts has painstakingly restored and successfully relaunched the iconic Apple Express tourist steam train.
The two-foot narrow gauge steam train made its maiden trip at 09:00 on December 26, carrying fare-paying passengers between the city’s Kings Beach and the Port Elizabeth Airport – a 19 km return trip.
The train last ran in 2010, when public funds were pulled and the train stood idle for years. The Apple Express Rail non-profit company was created to drive the collaborative restoration, operation, maintenance and public access to the heritage rail assets in its custodianship, supported by Tansnet/Transnet Freight Rail, the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality and the Apple Express Volunteers group.
The Apple Express was officially relaunched by acting mayor Andrew Whitfield and Apple Express Rail Company CEO Nerina Skuy, unveiling the new headboard of the Nelson Mandela Bay Steam Train. The revived Port Elizabeth heritage asset adds to the Metro’s expanding tourism offering, an effort that has been managed by Whitfield, who also is the MMC for Economic Development, Tourism & Agriculture.
A second steam locomotive is currently under restoration, with a third patiently awaiting its turn to be assessed for repairs.
Long-term plans are being developed to expand the route beyond the city’s borders, along the longest narrow-gauge railway line in the world. Further along the Langkloof, the 284-km line crosses the Van Stadens railway bridge, the highest narrow-gauge railway bridge in the world.
The planned service will comprise short-haul and day trips, with other services being added as the refurbishment of the railway line is rolled out in phases. Disabled facilities are available.
The train will run from December 26, 2017, to January 7, 2018, undertaking five excursions a day, excluding New Year’s Day. Tickets cost R75 for adults and R50 for children under 12 years of age. Bookings can be made at the Kings Beach terminus or online at https://www.appleexpresstrain.co.za.