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Part 4: The Old Main Line from Rossburgh to Cato Ridge by Les Pivnic ©

In this part of our chapters on Natal, we are going north on the main line from Rossburgh to Cato Ridge via the Old Main Line henceforth referred to as the OML.  This is the line that runs via Pinetown and on through Inchanga near where the previous Natal Government Railways had a lofty viaduct that proved to be unsafe with the result that the line was deviated in 1892 to avoid crossing the gorge.  A mix of photographs is presented starting from the Rossburgh end and working our way slowly up the OML.

My thanks go to Bruno Martin for his fine map and gradient profile.  

I am indebted to the following photographers who contributed 99.9% of the photos for this section:

Peter Stow for his fine selection of photos; Late Brian Couzens via Ashley Peter and the RSSA Durban branch; Charles Parry for his photos; Dick Manton for his assistance with scanning Charles Parry images and for his own and photos from his collection showing the Umgeni Steam Railway’s train on the de-electrified OML etc.; Eugene Armer for his photos; Pierre de Wet and the Late Dave Parsons for a photo each and the THL for two historical images.

I also need to again thank Greg Hart for all the toiling behind his scanner – copying the Brian Couzens slides for us – thanks Greg!

Ashley Peter has again provided an enormous amount of information for the captions for the Brian Couzens photos – I am indebted to Ashley for this kind assistance.  He also assisted Peter Stow in identifying certain locations – thanks Ashley!


1. Rossburgh is by far the busiest junction in Durban, sometimes referred to as “Durban’s Germiston”.  Originally known as South Coast Junction, it has probably had the most remodelling of any junction in Natal, if not South Africa!  As far back as 1906, in Natal Government Railways days, improvements were already being made to its layout.  It was further altered when the New Main Line was introduced in 1921, with the actual divergence of the westward (inland) and southbound tracks moving to Booth, about half a mile south of Rossburgh, which later became known as Booth Junction.  Then, after the Bayhead Goods Yard complex was completed in the 1950’s and the new commuter line to Umlazi was being planned in the 1960’s, it became clear that the at grade crossing of what would become a quadruple track to the south was never going to be a satisfactory situation.  So, a major grade separation project was undertaken, which was done in phases over several years, continuing right until the 1970’s, when Brian Couzens took this photo of an Old Main Line bound 4M2 electric motorcoach set being hauled by a pair of Greyville’s Class 14R’s, the overhead work in progress obviously necessitating the power being switched off.    

2. 1E E8 leads a sister with the 16h15 from Durban to Botha’s Hill between Sea View and Bellair stations in 1970.

3. A fire occurred on a goods train in one of the Dellville Wood tunnels on the new main line on 28 August 1970. One line was closed for some three months and most Up and Down passenger trains were diverted via the Old Main Line. Most of them had an additional 5E1 to assist on the 1:30 gradients. Here, three series 5 class 5E1’s haul 190-up, the 15h20 Durban - Johannesburg express, between Sea View and Bellair.


4. A 4M set, No S1, runs into Bellair as train 48 in January 1985.  Motor coach 7602 of type N-1-CM is leading. The station name board is just visible above the motor coach’s headlight.

5. A quick sprint allowed for a shot of the train in the previous picture to be taken while it was standing in the station prior to entering the single line section.

6. A few days later we see 48-up again, this time with set S2 between Sea View and Bellair passing Bellair’s outer home and distant signals. Note the ex-steam steel side door coaches in the second and third positions of type L-23 (ex- second class of type O-38 with 5 doors per side) and type L-44 respectively which match the motor coaches in design and were probably made from the same jigs. In total 12 type L-44 and 6 type O-38 coaches were converted to electric plain trailers in Cape Town for use with type 4M motor coaches.

The check-railed curves indicate that this was either at the OML's limit of 4.5 chains radius (= 300ft) or close to it.  Note that the OML ruling gradient of 1-in-30 is uncompensated for curvature - even on 300ft radius, which means that the equivalent straight-track gradient is 1-in-22.  The Hendrie class 14s, specifically designed for such terrain, worked this line from their introduction in 1913 until the OML electrification was energised in 1959 and even later (until the early 70s) on pick-up goods and haulers.  They had to work for their living.

7. On Sunday 18 April 1971 there was an occupation for overhead-line maintenance and two 14Rs, led by 1706, were standing ready in Bellair to work haulers westwards to Pinetown.

8. The same locomotives as in photo 7, showing the interesting Up-starter signals at Bellair where double track from Rossburgh ended and the only platform was on the down main line.  

9. We are still at Bellair, this time with a single class 14R on a type 5M2A set on Sunday 8 August 1971. This set appears to be at least seven coaches in length with two motor coaches, each creating a back EMF, no mean feat for a single 14R on the 1:30 uncompensated gradients.

10. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Durban – Pietermaritzburg line on 1 December 1880, a special train was arranged to run between the two cities on Saturday, 29 November 1980.  As steam had already long disappeared from Durban, two of Mason’s Mill’s Class GMAM garratts were used to haul a fourteen coach train up the OML, with the return trip being a much tamer affair, worked by regular electric traction via the New Main Line.  True to form, SAR management insisted that a test train be run prior to the big day and here we see it traversing the rarely used Up Main line at Bellair station in October 1980, just about to enter the single line section to Malvern and beyond.

11. A pair of class 1E’s led by E25 grind their way up the gradient from Bellair to Malvern with the 16h15 to Botha’s Hill in late 1970.

12. Another pair of Class 1E’s departing from Bellair, again with the 16h15 from Durban to Botha’s Hill. Note the aluminium-painted roof of the second 1E.

13. Class 5E1 E490 leads the 16h15 to Botha’s Hill from Bellair in late 1970. This was one of the few trains I could photograph in the week during the summer if I took the back roads from Howard College, after Tutorials or Practicals, on the way home. I was questioned by Railway Police after taking this photograph.

14. A diverted 212-up, the Orange Express (still in red-and-cream livery), on the first leg of its 1300-mile journey from Durban to Cape Town led by 5E1 489 (without headboard), running through Bellair.  Note the driver’s assistant, cloth in hand, ready to acknowledge the guards green flag.  Your photographer rode one of these diverted Orange Expresses from Durban to Pietermaritzburg - an experience never to be forgotten.

15. For some reason only two series 5 Class 5E1’s led by 1104 were handling the diverted Train 190, the 15h20 to Johannesburg, through Hillary in April 1971.

16. Still consisting predominantly of clerestory stock, diverted 71-down from Bloemfontein approaching Hillary on its way to Durban in late 1970.

17. During an overhead electrical maintenance shutdown in June 1969 this GEA was getting the thrashing of its life as it hauled an eleven coach 4M2 electric set upgrade from Hillary.  At an estimated 420 tons (not even taking the drag of twelve traction motors into account), this load was already 40 tons overload for a GEA – and that’s on the goods loading tables!  Somehow it made it, as evidenced by Brian’s photos of the same train coming into Northdene sometime later.  However, Operating pushed their luck once too often: just over a year later, in October 1970, a similarly loaded train also being hauled by a GEA became well and truly stuck between Poet’s Corner and Malvern.  Eventually it had to part load to clear the section, with major disruption to the train service.  After that the GEA’s were replaced by double-headed 14R’s when required to haul such heavy trains.

18. In pouring rain and howling wind, a class 5E1 was lifting the six coach 12h05 train from Durban away from Hillary on Saturday 27 March 1971

19. Before he can accelerate away from Hillary with the 16h15 from Durban, the driver of 1E E38 must lean far out of the cab beyond the sides of the locomotive to observe the guard's "right away" as the last side doors are slammed shut.

20. On Sunday 22 August 1971 two class 14R’s 1724 and 1707 made an impressively noisy, yet smokeless, departure from Hillary hauling a type 4M set during an overhead occupation.

21.  Sometime either late 1969 or perhaps early 1970 a Class 14R pulls into an immaculate Malvern station with a six coach Pinetown suburban during a weekend overhead maintenance shutdown, the feather of steam from the safety valve belying the fact that it would have been working pretty hard on the stiff climb up from Poet’s Corner halt.  Note too the immaculately-uniformed station foreman standing ready to exchange Van Schoor tablets with the fireman.

22. Poet’s Corner Halt showing a rather special footbridge.  The main girder across the track is the underframe retrieved from a scrapped class FD Modified Fairlie engine – an inspired re-use of a component from a scrapped locomotive!

23. Prior to the introduction of dedicated type 5M2A parcels motor coaches and driving trailers in Natal, class 1E’s were used to haul either suburban brake vans, main line vans or parcel vans of type KP-1 as illustrated here. As the parcels van did not have accommodation for staff, a goods guards van was added for that purpose. Note the markers protruding from the sides of the van indicating that the train does not have a guard. Here, modified class 1E with widened cab hauls its two vehicles effortlessly towards Malvern, winter, 1981.

24. Class 1E E79 leading arriving at Malvern with the 12:05 from Durban on Saturday 13 March 1971.

25. Three class 5E1s lead a diverted 190-up to Johannesburg, west of Malvern. The suburban coach which is ex workshops was either destined for Pietermaritzburg for use on services there or on transfer to another system.

26. As mentioned before, test trains were the norm before special trains would be considered, and the August 1969 RSSA Durban Branch request for a 1 Class special from Durban to Pietermaritzburg was no exception.   Here, some weeks before the train was actually booked to run, a test train with a single Class 1 (number unfortunately not recorded, but possibly No 1268) and a nondescript collection of empty balcony coaches was run over the complete route – seen here getting a good run at the 1:30 bank beyond Malvern station.  

27. On the same weekend as photo 21, when the Pinetown service temporarily reverted to steam operation, this 14R is seen trundling tender-first into Malvern with a down passenger train for Durban.   Contrary to the flogging required when heaving trains up this steeply graded line, return trips east of Hillcrest were something of an anti-climax, with only one short gentle incline between Northdene and Escombe, the rest of the line being entirely downhill to Rossburgh and then virtually level into Durban.

28. The same two class 14R’s as in photograph 20 have just shut off with clean stacks as they slow into Malvern station with a type 4M electric set.

29. The same train as in the previous photograph about to depart from Malvern.

30. No 48-up, the same train as in photograph 6, departing from Malvern.

31. With electric power off on Sunday 9th March 1972 for work on overhead equipment, this Durban - Pinetown return working ran with 14R 1759 and six suburban coaches, thus replicating typical operation prior to electrification in 1959, seen here at Malvern.

32. A diverted Train 190 passing through Malvern in late 1970.


33. Another view of the Class 1 test train seen in photo 25, with the loco still valiantly blasting up the continuous 1:30 grade from Malvern, through Escombe and about to negotiate the sharp S-bend under the Stella Road bridge and on past the renowned Salajee’s Hardware store.  The fact that Brian was able to make the two kilometres to Escombe in time for this shot indicates that the train’s progress must have been somewhat slower than the charging Mastodon (4-8-0) would suggest!  Although the loco seemed to be managing fairly well, some steaming problems developed later as the driver and locomotive inspector were seen to be shovelling large quantities of char from the smokebox and clearing blocked spark arrestors whilst looped for a crossing at Botha’s Hill.

34. On the actual day of the RSSA special, Sunday, 31 August 1969, 1268 class 1 did the honours and here we see her pulling proudly into Escombe station, with what appears to be the whole of Queensburgh turned out for the occasion!  This was made into an official civic occasion, with the mayor of Queensburgh ceremonially handing over a letter to the train driver for delivery to the mayor of Pietermaritzburg.

35. On 25 February 1973 the line was deviated over a new railway bridge crossing the newly constructed Rossburgh – Pinetown highway (later to be known as the M7) at Northdene.  In order to give the Resident Engineer’s department an opportunity to connect up the overhead electrical wiring, all trains were steam-hauled between Malvern and Pinetown for the weekend, with 14R’s nos. 1719 and 1705 doing the honours.   Brian caught the pair drifting downgrade from Northdene, about to pass under the Stella Road bridge at Escombe.

36. As the train depicted in picture 20 slowed down for Northdene, the photographer was treated to a rare display of smoke.

37. A short while later we saw the next up train being worked by 1705 and 1719, just after having crossed the new bridge at Northdene. RSSA member John Gilberthorpe was firing the second engine.

38. During early 1990s trains 76071 and 67072, Johannesburg - Durban return, on Mondays were worked over OML, presumably because of work being done on NML. Here 67072 was ascending the punishing Fields Hill on the original 1879 NGR formation with its 1 in 30 gradient and 300' radius curves (uncompensated), having to gain 687' in 6 miles between Pinetown and Kloof.  Plenty of power for 10 coaches and van. 

39. Even though the programme of raising platforms for sliding-door suburban sets had been completed all the way to Pinetown by 1972, trains that originated beyond Pinetown still ran with swing-door stock all the way to Durban, as demonstrated here at Glen Park halt in 1974 by 13-down, an eight-coach 4M set powered by three motorcoaches and booked to start from Botha’s Hill at 6.35 am (6.57 am from Kloof on Saturdays).  Apart from the new platform, Glen Park has also been given a fancy new nameboard, which certainly doesn’t comply with the rather more staid SAR standards!

40. In June 1972 this pair of sparkling Class 5E1 units were unassisted as they hauled a diverted 209-down, the Durban-bound Orange Express, through Sarnia station, possibly following a derailment on the New Main Line.  The Trans-Natal, with a full complement of 18 saloons and steam-heating car, and unbelievably also running with only a pair of similarly shining 5E1’s, had preceded the Orange.   An up 5M2A suburban train has been shunted to the loop to cross the main line passenger train.  On the horizon is the imposing bulk of Umgeni Power Station’s cooling towers and smoke stacks.   About ten years later this would become the birthplace and initial home of the Umgeni Steam Railway preservation group, thanks to the kind offices of then Power Station Manager Colin Healey.  Not many people are aware that USR took its name from this power station, and for several years operated trains between the power station in New Germany and Sarnia station. 

41. The same train as in photo 36 accelerating smartly away from Sarnia with surprisingly clean smoke stacks considering the 1:30 ascent to Pinetown just ahead – 14R 1719 even has her safety valves blowing fiercely!

42. On 31 August, 1969 the Durban branch of the RSSA arranged a special trip with class 1 locomotives from Durban to Maritzburg and return.  The late Brian Couzens and Geoff Gooderham were heavily involved with the arrangements for the trip.  Here at Sarnia is class 1 No 1268 looking very smart for this special occasion. After a brief servicing spell in the yard at Sarnia, 1268 was ready to take on the next section of 1:30 climb up to Pinetown, from where 1A 1295 would assist as banker up the notorious Field’s Hill and on to Botha’s Hill.

43. Here we are back at Sarnia on the return leg with the 1969 RSSA class 1 special, headed by 1A 1295 and class 1 No 1262.

44. In 1974 the Durban RSSA again arranged a special trip behind steam – this time from Durban to Richmond return with engines 14R 1733 named “BAYHEAD” and on the Thornville – Richmond branch the GF Garratt in blue livery named “MAGDALENA”, newly arrived from Nelspruit.  Between Sarnia and Cato Ridge, 1733 was assisted by another 14R no.1749 and it is this combination that we see in this photo taken by the Late Dave Parsons.

45. On Easter Monday, 26 March 1978, the RSSA's “Corridor Dining Express” was making its way back from Scottburgh to Johannesburg.  Here, 14R 1590 and GMAM 4165 were blasting upgrade past Pinetown’s outer home and distant signals, both set at “all clear”, signifying that they have been given an unchecked run through the station and up the formidable Field’s Hill immediately beyond.

46. On a Saturday afternoon in 1968 this unidentified Class GEA was taking a breather on the second loop at Sarnia between hauling turns on the tortuous Sarnia – Field’s Hill – Kloof section due to overhead electrical work underway in the Pinetown area.  It had just uncoupled from 25-down, the daily Pietermaritzburg – Durban passenger and mail train.  Whilst the Class 5E1 unit on train 25 had started up and was waiting to depart on the single track to Northdene and beyond, three Class 1E’s hauling a heavy coal drag for the nearby Umgeni Power Station at New Germany were being admitted to the first loop.  The GEA’s next duty would in all probability be local suburban train 32-up en route from Durban to Cato Ridge.

47. The higher passenger numbers in the commuting peak periods, especially between Pinetown and Botha’s Hill, meant that these trains often had to be extended beyond the six coach limit of a single Class 1E.  Here we see a pair of the vintage 1E electric units working a somewhat longer afternoon peak local passenger train, climbing the tree-lined section from Sarnia to Pinetown, circa 1970.  Some trains that proceeded beyond Pinetown were booked with limited stops between Durban and Malvern.

48. One of Greyville’s ubiquitous Class 14R’s is framed by Pinetown station’s nameboard on a Sunday sometime early in 1969.  Its works train, consisting of a large rail crane and a DZ loaded with overhead electrical components, appears to have been operating in the vicinity of the St John’s Avenue bridge between Sarnia and Pinetown, which was in the process of being widened.  The works train was standing clear in Pinetown station to allow a 4M motorcoach set, hauled by a Class GEA , to pass before returning to the dead section.

49. The Pinetown home signal indicates a through run for 193-down, the diverted Johannesburg-Durban overnight express passenger, led by 5E1 489 in late 1970.

50.  This pair of 5E1s on 110-up, the daily Bayhead – Cato Ridge wayside, were busy shunting the Pinetown goods shed sometime early in 1969.  It looks as if the driver’s assistant was sent back to release the brakes of the FZ grain wagon immediately behind the units while the driver kept a beady eye on him!  In later years this train was renumbered to 2110.

51. A shiny 5E1 pulls into Pinetown station with a standard six coach swing-door suburban train sometime around 1970.  Although the newer 5M2A sliding-door stock began running in Durban from 1968, the project to equip all stations between Rossburgh and Pinetown with high-level platforms was only completed in February 1972, so the OML was limited to the older 4M matchboarded sets augmented with a number of 1E or 5E1-hauled wooden swing-door rakes.  Even after 1972, the trains that ran beyond Pinetown would continue to be worked by wooden coaches with steps as these stations retained their low-level platforms, where these were provided at all!

52. Pinetown station, 5M sets staged for weekend. The main platform is clear for service trains from Durban, while the bay is occupied by a staged set. The bay was installed facing inland for 4M sets working trains to Cato Ridge, passengers from Durban having to change trains there. There were no high level platforms beyond Pinetown. This picture dates from after the service beyond Pinetown was withdrawn late in 1988.  Note also that the magnificent high-capacity goods yard is almost empty - this was ten years after the Road Transportation Act, Act 6 of 1978, destroyed SAR's wagonload traffic.

53. Photo 47 was quite possibly train 44-up to Cato Ridge, which would have been followed about half an hour later by this one, 46-up, also destined for Cato Ridge.  Like No 44 it was worked by a pair of Class 1Es with E2 at the head, seen here under the Crompton Street bridge entering Pinetown station. 

54. The same train as in photograph 24 approaches Pinetown. Note the different roof lines of the locomotives. 

55. In this scene from 1970 a 14R arrives at Pinetown with a 4M electric set during yet another weekend maintenance shutdown.  That could well be a signal fitter standing next to the station foreman in his shirt sleeves, and the amount of mechanical signal equipment lying on the platform against the old signal cabin wall suggests this might also have been the weekend that the lever frame was being moved to the new double storey signal cabin (shown in the next photo) off the Kloof end of the platform – thanks Greg Hart for pointing that out!  Although technically an overload for a single 14R – these seven coach electric sets were equal in weight and drag to at least nine regular passenger coaches (a 14R was officially allowed seven coaches between Durban and Pinetown) – there was tremendous pride and rivalry between the Greyville crews who went all out to try and equal (or better!) the accelerated running times of the electric trains on this route with their 50 year old steeds!


56. During August to November 1970 many long-distance passenger trains were diverted onto the Old Line while repairs were undertaken to the fire-damaged Dellville Wood tunnel. Here a trio of 5E1 units haul either train No 199 or 209 through the loop at Pinetown, the units clearly the polished locos of a named train.  In the foreground the formation has been cleared in preparation for the provision of a bay platform for the old 4M2 train sets that will eventually be limited to the Pinetown – Cato Ridge section once high-level platforms allow the 5M2A sets to work to Pinetown.  The bay platform would permit passengers a quick and convenient changeover from one train set to the other (see also Charles Parry's photo 52).

57. Towards the end of their careers the old and obsolete 4M sets became increasingly unreliable, so much so that 5E1 units had to be commandeered to haul them. Two such sets were awaiting duties at Pinetown station c 1986.

58. Extensive modifications taking place to Pinetown Yard in 1981.  Notwithstanding the implications of the Road Transportation Act of 1978, in the early 1980’s the SAR were still convinced that the exponential industrial growth in and around Pinetown warranted major investment in rail infrastructure.  The station yard was extended virtually tenfold but not only were umpteen new tracks laid, (with the loss of the turning triangle in the process) but a large overhead gantry crane, wide double track goods loading bank and expansive new goods sheds were also constructed.   Sadly very little of this infrastructure ever saw much use and within a few years, parts of it were either being removed or leased out to private entities. 

The Umgeni Steam Railway (USR) could have made good use of the cavernous goods shed to protect its collection of historic rolling stock, but by the time they had moved out of New Germany, the shed was already out of use and being leased out.

59. On the same day as the photo above was taken, a 4M set stands in the partially completed yard, with a virtually new Class 37 diesel coupled to the far end, about to shunt it across to the bay platform, from where it would depart for Cato Ridge.

60. The same train, photographed from the footbridge at the other end, showing 37-093 idling patiently, awaiting authority to pull out towards Kloof before shunting back into the passenger station.  That’s probably the guard half way down the train, making his way to the back.  He would no doubt have received strict instructions from the station foreman about the required shunting movement which would, of necessity, culminate in a steep downhill propelling movement, carefully controlled to stop short of the stop-block in the bay platform. From the length of the train it can be deduced that this is probably a set borrowed from the New Main Line, as two head 4M sets were usually limited to seven coaches on the steeply graded Old Line.  Temporary stop-blocks placed across the tracks where construction work is taking place can be seen behind the train.  

Symbol of a critical disconnect between a railway and its clientele, the massive new yard at Pinetown was an astonishing example of woolly-headed planning.  Intended to serve the rapidly growing industrial hub at Pinetown, here was a major facility designed to compete with road transport but only approachable via a 100-year-old, single-track railway with 20 miles of 1:30 uncompensated gradients on either side.  Long before its completion truckers were creaming off the business.


61. A main-line goods train descending Fields Hill, approaching Wyebank after September 1987 floods closed the NML. Because OML had suffered less damage it was quickly reopened and used for as much traffic as it could handle while the NML was repaired.

62. Casualty of an earlier Pinetown remodelling (extension of the head shunt and loops) was its southern outer-home and distant signal (see photo 44).  During 1969 the construction work resulted in regular steam haulers at weekends, and sometimes off peak during the week as well.

Hauling of regular service trains on the OML continued into the seventies.  A typical working was described by John Gilberthorpe in RSSA NEWSLETTER, Volume XIII No 1:

"November 26 [1972] again saw steam to the rescue.  The Pinetown line was without power while maintenance work was carried out at Bellaire (in NEWSLETTER Volume XII No 3, Charles Parry describes a run with 14R 1759 from Durban to Pinetown and back [photo 30]).  Anyone that knows the line will tell you that it is a continuous heavy uphill pull from the junction at Rossburgh right up to Pinetown and beyond with [continuous curvature].  There are also 16 intermediate stops between Durban and Pinetown.  The 06:25 am electric motor coach was the first train we hauled from Durban to Pinetown.  This is allowed 55 minutes inclusive of stops.  We had 14R 1725 piloted by 14R 1741 (driver Botha and fireman Watson) and cut the electric schedule by 3 minutes.  The load was seven bogies of a motor coach set.

Members may like some idea of the footplate work necessary to achieve this: Driver York on 1725 was using full regulator as soon as possible after starting from each stop and notched up to no shorter than 60% cut-off.  I set my injector at Berea Road - the first station out of Durban - and never took it off the whole way to Pinetown.  The coal consumption was naturally heavy, but the engine steamed excellently.  The old steam timing was 64 minutes - and we cut that by 12 minutes.  Is this 52 minutes one of the fastest [all-station] steam runs to Pinetown?  We then headed the 07:40 am Pinetown-Durban as far as Dalbridge.  After watering and fire-cleaning at Greyville we headed the 10:20 am Durban - Cato Ridge via Pinetown as far as Malvern and returned light engines from there.

Two other 14Rs headed the 08:40 am Durban-Pinetown and 09:45 am Pinetown-Durban, all trains being composed of electric motor coach sets.  It is a great pity no photographers and tape recorders [seemed to be] present.  The sight and sound was terrific".

63.  The same train as in the previous photo, between Wyebank and Fields Hill, mid 1969.

64. "The sight and sound was terrific". The same train again, accelerating away from Fields Hill - next stop: Kloof. Shattering the Sunday morning stillness of Durban's leafy (and affluent) suburbs, this pair of 14Rs were giving everything they (and their crews) had to maintain the electric schedule with an 11-coach 4M2 set.  As you can see, the leading engine's fireman was sanding manually to maintain adhesion on this, the steepest part of the line. 

65. On a Saturday afternoon in 1968, during one of a number of weekend electrical shutdowns on the Old Main Line, this GEA had just pulled away from Kloof with 25-down, the daily Pietermaritzburg – Durban (via Pinetown) passenger, made up of a Class 5E1 electric unit, five wooden swingdoor coaches and a main line baggage van.  From Mondays to Saturdays it conveyed mail to and from the intermediate stations in the van, which would have worked up to Pietermaritzburg the previous evening on 72-up, the Durban – Bloemfontein passenger. The GEA is the same loco that appeared in photo 45, having just detached itself from this train at Sarnia. 

66. Diverted 56071-down, the daily mails from Bloemfontein to Durban, between Gillitts and Kloof, c 1980.

67. Back to the Class 1 test train of August 1969 which, having successfully surmounted Field’s Hill, was taking an easy jog through Kloof station in preparation for the next onslaught of 1:30 gradients through Gillitts to Emberton, after which the line eases slightly until Hillcrest, where the next servicing stop was booked.

68. Durban - Pietermaritzburg train 24 with 5E1 hauling a 4M set into Kloof station with Station Master exchanging tokens.  By 1987 the 4M sets were increasingly unreliable and 5E1s were used either singly or in pairs to haul trains between Pinetown and Cato Ridge. As all platforms had been raised by this time, 5M sets worked trains between Durban and Pinetown.

69. 4M train 39 from Pietermaritzburg overtakes the T & P at Kloof, 1986.

70. Diverted Train 193 near Kloof in late 1970 seems to be moving at a rather excessive speed given the angle of leading locomotive 489 and the dust created.

71. Kloof station with 4 X 6E1s heading in the down direction diverted unusually from NML.  The reason for this is unknown but perhaps the driver of the light units had asked Operating for OML and was successful. According to Charles Parry it was an unusual line on which almost anything could appear.

72.  Just to show that Hillcrest was indeed a servicing stop for the doughty Class 1, Brian caught it leaving Hillcrest with a tell-tale steaming pile of ash between the rails in the watering siding alongside.  From here the track actually descends a little (the first downgrade since Northdene almost 25km back!), but only for a kilometre or so, after which the next fierce climb, Botha’s Hill, would have to be tackled – yet another trial of 1:30 gradients on 90m radius curves. 

73. By 1980 the watering facilities at Hillcrest were no more and the GMAs on the centenary test train had instead spent quite some time shunting on replacement auxiliary water tanks and cleaning their fires before making a smoky departure.

74. Crossing of two goods trains with the up train about to enter the loop at Hillcrest in August 1969.  Due to a derailment on the NML traffic had been diverted to the OML.  At that time crossings were made at stations on the OML but in later years use was made of the "convoy system"; during the day the down Trans Natal was followed by down goods trains until in the evening the up Trans Natal led a procession of up goods trains. Diesel locomotives worked some of these trains to reduce the demand placed on the three sub-stations. Interval between trains was about 35 minutes...busy line, busy station staff!

75. A few weeks after the test train the real Centenary train brought something of a carnival atmosphere to Hillcrest station.  The extra time taken to perform the shunting and servicing on the test train was built into the schedule of the special passenger train and it was booked to stop here for almost an hour, during which time the passengers, local residents and a considerable contingent of train-chasers mingled on the station, where a number of activities had been laid on to entertain the crowds.


76. Quaint old Botha’s Hill station c 1925.  Note the ornate wrought-iron work on the supporting pillars for the verandah. 

77.  This one's for you, Greg!  In this photo from Pierre de Wet’s collection*, I have taken the liberty of using the caption quoted for the same image in Bruno Martin and Michael Cottrell’s book – "The Natal Old Main Line from Durban to Pietermaritzburg" which reads: "Mixed train stopped at Botha’s Hill station circa 1883. Note the refreshment room at the far end of the platform – a necessity in the days before dining saloons".  

The locomotive is one of the Kitson 4-6-0Ts introduced by NGR in 1879 which later became SAR class C, one of which survived in industrial use at Escom's Rosherville power station. Named "Kitty" by Escom's Locomotive Superintendant, Dave Parsons, she became the first working centenarian in South Africa.  

* Another interesting fact about this photo is that it is the original of a beautiful painting by Pierre.

78. With class 1A 1295 having taken over from the failed class 1 No 1268 at Hillcrest, the RSSA's 1969 Class 1 special to Pietermaritzburg was once again underway. At Botha's Hill Brian recorded the foreman exchanging tablets with the fireman as the late-running train charged through the station, the scheduled stop to uncouple the banking locomotive having been dispensed with.  The luxury of an enclosed signal cabin came very late to Botha’s Hill, as can be seen from the tiny wooden afterthought built under the verandah!   Throngs of people turned up all along the route to view the spectacle of a special steam passenger train out on the line.  

79. Only two class 5E1’s were being used on this diverted Train 193 in late 1970 between Drummond and Alverstone, with the train taking on the last steep upgrade section about a mile from the summit at Alverstone. 

80. The tortuous nature of the old main line is no more evident than in this photo of what appears to be 193-down in May 1971.  It is between Inchanga and about half-a-mile before Drummond, at a point where the sustained climb up to Alverstone, much of which ranges between 1:40 and 1:30, commences in earnest.

81. The driver of train 193 making no error as he took the tablet from the station foreman at Botha’s Hill.  Leading locomotive is Class 5E1 489, taken in late 1970.

82. The same train passing through the only tunnel on the line near Drummond.

83. Passenger view from the down Trans Natal after Botha’s Hill while the train was negotiating successive reverse curves on the original NGR formation on a cliff edge.  We were diverted to the OML after September 1987 floods. A slip can be seen quite close to a mast foundation.

84.   One can almost hear the grinding of those 4M motors in July 1971 as three motor-coaches combine to haul this Durban-bound nine coach set up the sustained 1:30 gradient between Drummond and Alverstone, with uninterrupted views across the Valley of a Thousand Hills to the right of the picture.  From Brian’s lofty perch he would see the train enter into a tight check-railed S-bend just below him, flanges squealing loudly, and then disappear into a deep cutting before plunging into the only tunnel on the Old Main Line.  Looking back, just beyond the road bridge under which the train has just passed, lies the village of Drummond, the official half-way mark of the well-known annual Comrade’s Marathon, run between Natal’s two principle cities. [Charlie forgot to credit Brian Couzins with the authorship of this photo.  Please note the copyright now belongs to the RSSA, Durban Branch]

85. 45-down exiting the Drummond tunnel in late 1980. It was a type 4M set, number M8, led by motor coach type N-1-CM number 7637. Within a year 7637 was scrapped.  Note how beautifully kept the right of way is. No trees, bushes or long grass in the way. It almost appears to have been manicured. This is a far cry from what you see on some routes today.

86. Train 71-down from Bloemfontein has just left Drummond on its way to Durban in late 1970

87. A THL photo depicting the double-headed GMAM special between Alverstone and Drummond, commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Durban – Pietermaritzburg line.

88. The infamous Inchanga viaduct was part of the original NGR line opened in 1880.  By 1892, the line had been deviated to avoid the viaduct which was reputed to sway in the wind and was said to be far from safe.  A full account of the difficulties experienced with this viaduct can be found in the Martin/Cotterell book referred to earlier – see caption 77.

This is a wonderful photo and the photographer seems to have made an outing of it, judging by the three long-frocked ladies and two gentlemen in the picture (have you spotted the second one?).

89. 190-up Durban - Johannesburg approaching Inchanga, taken from the freeway below in late 1970.

90. The two splendid 14Rs, 1733 and 1749 seen earlier in photo 44, between Harrison and Cato Ridge with the RSSA special to Richmond via Thornville on 25 August 1974.  

91. In 1998 the wires started to be removed on the Old Mainline out of Pinetown and by 2003 all wires and masts had gone through to Cato Ridge. Umgeni Steam Railway (USR) have been operating regularly over this section for several years, initially from Pinetown to Inchanga. Since relocation of their operating base to Inchanga, trains have operated from Kloof.  In May 2005 Umgeni operated a number of special passenger trains for the visiting Dave Rodgers Tour and in this picture 3BR 1486 hauling Imperial brown stock is seen approaching Tracy Watts Road crossing shortly after leaving Pinetown heading for Inchanga. 

This picture recreates a scene that could have been photographed in the 1930s.  In fact were it not for the round-topped boiler, the houses, the motor car and the fact that it was taken by Dick Manton, it could have been made in 1912 (even this fantasy is not strictly correct: the 3rd coach is an ex 1M motor coach).

92. The Dave Rodgers tour train of May 2005 is seen again on the steep climb from Hillcrest to Botha's Hill.  Andy Anderson adds: "That is precisely at Padley’s Halt, about 600m from Third World Corner!"

93. And so we move into the post-modern era:  Sunday 3 July 2013, Train number 66626 the 12:30 Departure from Kloof Station, between Hillcrest & Botha’s Hill approaching Galloway Rd Level crossing (AKA Padley’s crossing) on its way to Inchanga (strictly speaking the photo is outside Soul of A Railway's remit, but it is such a beautiful one, depicting a meticulously re-created scene, that we couldn't resist it).

94. Easter Monday, 6 April 2015 at 16:35.  Empty stock train number 66814 returning to Inchanga after a busy Easter weekend, a few hundred meters up the line from the old Emberton Halt between Gillitts and Hillcrest. 

95. 25 January 2015: Empty Stock train number 66814 arriving at Inchanga station at 17:38. Inchanga is one of the few “Detector” locked type stations in the country, where the Signals are interlocked and operated from the lever frame, and the points are operated by hand tumblers at the points. The Home signal is detected by the points like normal. 

96. 25 January 2015: Empty Stock train 66814 running a few minutes late, blasting through Gillitts at 16:39 on the way home to Inchanga.

97. In 1978, the RSSA Reef Branch organised the Corridor Dining Express from Johannesburg to Durban and return. A week before the trip, Operating in Durban ran a test train of empty coaching stock over the old main line, with a 14R double-heading a GMAM. The 14R and the GMAM were provided by Mason's Mill. On the day, 9 March 1978, the weather was atrocious, with heavy overcast and rain. In this photo the test train, headed by 14R 1920 and GMAM 4165 was passing Poet's Corner on its way to Pinetown. 

98. Another shot of the test train for the RSSA Corridor-Dining Express. 9th March 1978. 14R 1920 + GMAM 4165 bringing the train into Inchanga. 

99. In 1980 the SAR operated a special commemorative steam-hauled train from Durban to Pietermaritzburg to celebrate the centenary of the line. The train started out from the old Durban station behind 14R 1740 and travelled to the 'New Durban' station. Double-headed GMAM's nos. 4066 + 4101 from Mason's Mill took over there and hauled the train via the OML to Pietermaritzburg. This photo was taken from a private garden and shows the train climbing Field's Hill above Pinetown, on its way to its next stop at Kloof. 29 November 1980.

100. We finish with two views of the return journey of the RSSA's 1969 special as seen from the train: 1295 and 1262 hammering up the old main line in the Botha Cuttings, between Botha’s Hill and Padleys.  Unfortunately, the weather had turned a bit grey on the return leg but this didn’t dampen our spirits. 

101. The final photo of this chapter shows both the Hendrie 4-8-0s still grinding their way up the second-last curve before Botha’s Hill – a great trip that will be long-remembered! 

My next chapter will cover the “New Main Line” from Rossburgh to Pietermaritzburg via Mariannhill.