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The New Main Line from Rossburgh to Pietermaritzburg compiled by Les Pivnic ©

Please note: All photographs, maps and text in Soul of a Railway are protected by copyright and may not be copied or reproduced in any way for further use without prior permission in writing from the compilers of this series, Les Pivnic and Charlie Lewis. 

Singling-out particular people for special mention in a list of contributors can be a tricky exercise but I doubt anyone would object to me doing that in the case of those mentioned below: 

Bruno Martin needs special mention due to the fact that he has gone to considerable lengths to prepare the maps and gradient profiles for this chapter as well as photos and text. Ashley Peter also requires special mention in that he has not only provided images from the late Brian Couzens Collection (now in the care of the RSSA, Durban) but has also contributed greatly to the captions as and where required.  And Greg Hart needs special mention for doing the the scans of Brian Couzen's slides as well as providing his own photos and Andrew Deacon for formatting the layout of our website and his patience in having to format several revisions brought about by images and text being added or changed.

The following list includes all those persons who contributed photos from their own cameras or collections held by them as well as several more that have come from the RSSA as well as Institutions like Museums and Libraries (please note that a number of photos have been included from persons now deceased - in these instances, the name of the deceased person is followed by the contributor): 

Peter Stow, Dick Manton, late R.V.Conyngham - Ashley Peter, Eric Conradie and Les Pivnic collections, late George Alexander - Allen Duff collection, late A.E.Durrant - Dick Manton collection, Charles Parry, J.William Vigrass - Krambles/Peterson Archive, late Eddie Mecl - Les Pivnic collection, late Dave Parsons - Les Pivnic collection, Local History Museum Durban, National Archives Pietermaritzburg, Yolanda Meyer THL, Eric Conradie, Les Pivnic and Charlie Lewis for his restoration work in Photoshop.


With the previous Natal chapter we travelled up the Old Main Line (OML) between Rossburgh and Cato Ridge. In this chapter we will return to Rossburgh and work our way up the New Main Line (NML) all the way to Pietermaritzburg.

The New Main Line (NML) was opened to traffic as a single line on 28th November 1921.  It did not replace the OML but provided an alternative route with a much easier ruling gradient of 1-in-66 compensated for the 500ft-radius curves, compared with the 1-in-30 uncompensated (equivalent to 1-in-22) on the 300ft radius curves with which the tortuous OML abounded. Due to the continuously increasing traffic the NML was doubled in stages until completed to Umlaas Road in 1935. The NML (which had 10 tunnels) was steam-worked until the end of 1936 when the section was opened for electric traction using class 1E units.  Prior to this, the NML was worked by classes 14 and (later) 12A but even these powerful Mountain types could not cope with the soaring traffic. In the early 1920s, tests were carried out with the solitary class GA, the first Cape-gauge Garratt ordered by SAR, in an effort to increase goods loads on the NML but a bigger and more powerful locomotive still was needed. In October 1929 two class GL Garratts (2350 & 2351) were supplied by Beyer Peacock. With a tractive effort of 89,136lbs (twice that of a 14th class) they were a revelation. After tests during which the GL hauled 1200 tons (more than double that of a class 14) a working load of 1000 tons, equivalent to that for three class 1Es north of Pietermaritzburg, was settled on. A cabled order was immediately sent to Beyer Peacock for another six GLs; No's 2352-2357 were placed in service during 1930.  They had cowls fitted over the chimneys to direct smoke away from the cab when working upgrade in the numerous tunnels. In addition, forced ventilation was provided for the engine crews. The GLs were the most powerful steam locomotives ever to work in the Southern Hemisphere but as already stated, their days on the NML were numbered.  By 1936, the section was electrified and the GLs transferred to Glencoe whence they put in another 30+ years on heavy coal traffic. In 1931 engine 2351 was rostered to work a special train over the NML conveying the Earl of Athlone and Princess Alice.  They showed particular interest in the British-built locomotive and were afforded the opportunity to ride on 2351’s footplate between Cato Ridge and Umlaas Road.  To mark the occasion the engine was named “Princess Alice” after the General Manager had approached Her Royal Highness for permission to do so.

Between 1965 and 1975 the NML was further improved by the construction of additional tunnels and deviations that reduced overall curvature quite dramatically, especially between Dellville Wood and Nshongweni and the entire Cato Ridge – Maritzburg section (for the latter please see Bruno Martin's maps and gradient profiles following photo 62).

Turning now to the photo presentation of this chapter, it is unfortunate that few photos appear to exist of the earlier years after the NML was opened to traffic.  In particular, photographs of the GL Garratts in service on this line have not come to light.  A great pity because it would have been wonderful to see the mighty GLs at work on the spectacular section that they were designed for.  Even photos of 14th class working the NML are rare.

While providing us with detailed maps and gradient profiles of the NML, Bruno has also made fascinating comparisons with the OML.  In particular your attention is drawn to his diagram of Booth Junction where the NML starts.  The layout has been extensively modified about once every decade since the rails arrived at Rossburgh and the precise layout at any point in time is exceedingly difficult to determine. I have settled for how it looks on Google Earth in 2015. 

NB: for your convenience, presentation of the maps and profiles for the section from Cato Ridge to Pietermaritzburg has been repeated after photo 62.

1. One of the oldest photos I have found for this chapter is this THL image of a class 14 working a main-line passenger train over the NML c 1927. I arrived at the approximate year by noting the type A-22/AA-23 twin diner (3rd and 4th vehicles in the consist) which had been converted in 1926 from type A-16 and A-17 singles.  The giveaway was the flat sides of the dining portion of the twin set which was previously a type A-17 of CSAR parentage. 

Ashley Peter adds: 

"[The class 14 is heading] what appears to be 192-up between the old Brereton ridge and Shongweni tunnels near Dellville Wood c 1927 – the date determined to be after the introduction of the Hendrie twin dining cars, but before doubling of the New Main Line.  On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays this train was known as the “Rand Limited” from Durban to Johannesburg and conveyed only first class passengers in articulated saloons, with an observation car at the rear.  However, the train depicted has a different composition, which probably means that it is the Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays “No 192 Through Train”, which carried 1st and 2nd class passengers and could be loaded up to eleven saloons – even though it ran to the exact same schedule.  The fact that this train only seems to have eight coaches would further suggest that it may be the Saturday train which was generally less patronised.  At this point the train would be about 75 minutes out of Durban, from where it would have departed at 2.15pm and about ten minutes from its first stop, Cliffdale, where locomotive servicing would take place.  Although this section of the line was abandoned in 1974 when the new Brereton tunnels were built, the alignment remains in use today as a service road to the otherwise inaccessible Ngedi Falls (also known as Kirk or Shongweni Falls) area.” 

2. The Down Durban-Johannesburg Mail hauled by a Montreal-built 14C, between Cavendish and Mount Vernon sometime between 1932 (i.e. after the section was doubled) and 1935 when class 12As took over this working.

3. The second of the first order for two Class GL Garratts, No 2351 (named "Princess Alice" in 1931), was erected at Durban Mechanical Workshops in September 1929.  See my notes in the introduction to this chapter regarding the ordering and placing into service on the NML of these outstanding locomotives.  The rear unit has not yet been equipped with a "Sturtevant" blower as described by Holland in Vol II, page 59 of "Steam Locomotives of the South African Railways".

4. An in-service photo of GL 2350, the first one, date and location unknown but probably Greyville loco soon after its first road tests in October 1929.  Problems created by the GL's full profile in the numerous tunnels of the NML and their resolution have been well described by both Holland and Paxton. The first attempt at a solution: a steam-turbine driven air blower and delivery pipe to the cab, are clear in this photo.  

5. GL 2351 already has her name "Princess Alice" cast in brass over the numberplate so we can safely date this photo as post 1931.  The airducting to the cab seems to have been boosted by a much larger turbine and cone-shaped inlet.  It seems that wasn't enough because the chimney has also been equipped with a cowl to deflect smoke away from the cab when running bunker first, which was the practice on the NML.  Apologies for only showing you mug shots of these mighty engines, we have yet to unearth a photo of one of them at work on the Booth Junction - Cato Ridge section for which they were designed.  

6. This photo is of particular interest because the set of main line saloons is still in the plain Imperial Brown livery that would indicate that this was the second set placed in service after the Royal Tour of 1947.  The first set (ex-Pilot Train) running as the Orange Express appeared in the chocolate & cream livery as used during the Royal Tour.  Both sets were soon repainted in the dignified and distinctive Indian Red and Cream livery of the Orange Express that became the standard for several years to come.

Ashley Peter comments: 

"A pair of different generation Class 1E’s (note the rooflines and side grill detail) are about to pass under the Umhlatuzana Road bridge with the Wednesdays and Saturdays Durban-bound Orange Express, 209-down, nearing the end of its 1300-mile journey from Cape Town c late 1947 or early 1948, with Booth Junction’s outer home and distant signals in the foreground.  The fact that the distant remains at “caution” shows that even one of South Africa’s premier passenger trains could sometimes experience traffic problems when approaching a busy junction like Booth/Rossburgh, where it was booked to pass at 9.20 am.  Of interest is that in the late 1940’s/early 1950’s the public timetable showed only two officially named trains on the SAR, notably the Blue Train and this one, the Orange Express.  Despite the fact that this was one of the SAR’s prestige trains, it was technically an “all stops” train as the timetable showed it booked with “request stops” at all the intermediate stations, sidings and halts between Ladysmith and Rossburgh, with the proviso that it would stop on request only to allow passengers from stations before Harrismith to detrain.  Presumably there were very few such requests as the train was still scheduled at almost exactly the same running times over this section as the other “fast” train – the then unnamed 199-down from Johannesburg to Durban."

7. Peter Stow describes the first of his photos: "The Durban bound Trans-Natal had just passed through Cavendish as it negotiated its way through curves and cuttings towards Mount Vernon in late 1984. The class 6E1s were immaculately turned out. Note the position of the kitchen and dining car in third and fourth positions respectively. This was done for a short time as part of the segregation of race groups and was also a source of inconvenience for those passengers booked in coaches towards the rear of an 18 coach train."  

Peter adds: "This is a ground level view taken at the same location as photo 2. Note how the bushes have grown compared to the earlier photograph".   

8. In early 1970, class 1E locomotives were still working goods trains on the Natal main line. Here E9 was heading a down livestock train of type GZ wagons towards Durban between Mount Vernon and Rossburgh near the Coedmore Quarry. The class 1E’s were fitted with three types of cowcatchers, two of which are illustrated here.    

9. On this day, Peter was out with the late Brian Couzens at Mount Vernon, waiting for the special Blue Train in photo No 14.  Before that the Trans-Natal came by, demonstrating the immaculate condition of the top-link units allocated to the named trains (note even the white-painted tyres!). This splendid pair of 5E1’s were bringing an equally well turned out 199-down (Trans-Natal) through Mount Vernon on a Saturday morning in 1971, the driver’s assistant acknowledging the guard’s right-away green flag with the regulation white mutton cloth (“sweat-rag” sounds a bit out of place on such a posh train!).    

10. The Cape Town bound Orange Express hauled by two immaculate class 5E1’s was some 20 minutes into its 1300-mile journey as it left Rossburgh Junction and started its climb up the Umhlatuzana River valley towards Mount Vernon.    

11. Long after the 1Es had been removed from main line passenger trains Peter photographed this interesting working on the main line passing through Mount Vernon. The date was 15 July 1971 and the train had come from Port Shepstone, having picked up under-privileged children from the Star Seaside Home at Hibberdene. The kids were returning to Johannesburg after a holiday at the coast. After electrification to Port Shepstone class 1E’s were used on the passenger trains on the South Coast line. The train was complete with double diner and preparation for dinner was evidently under way, judging by the smoke from the coal stoves in the kitchen.    

12. The same train mentioned above, going away. The second balcony coach, No 1636 of type E-12 was a CME Watson version of the Hendrie standard balcony coach which had square panels between the windows as opposed to arched panels. Square panels would later again feature in the closed vestibule timber coaches which characterized Watson's term of office.    

13. A few minutes after photo 9 was taken Brian and Peter were rewarded with another pair of 5E1’s, (with E670 leading), this time in rather more workaday condition, hauling a mixed goods load probably destined for the Bayhead Yards.  As was the norm in those days, this train would probably have been held at Shallcross or Cavendish to allow the Trans-Natal to pass.  Just for interest: the crossover from the down main line to the loop in the foreground provides access to the exchange yard for the Coedmore Quarry and PPC cement private sidings.    

14. The Blue Train used to make an annual detour to Durban from its normal route between Johannesburg and Cape Town for the Durban July Horse Race on the first Saturday in July of each year. However, on Saturday 19 June 1971 the Blue Train was passing through Mount Vernon station en-route to Durban with rugby supporters for the second and final international test between South Africa and France at Kings Park stadium as part of the French Rugby Union tour of South Africa in May/June of that year. For the record the match was a draw 8-8, following a South Africa win in the first test. The otherwise uniform roof line of the 1939 train was broken by the 1963 Union Carriage and Wagon-built lounge car in Blue Train colours.
The Blue would have been running hot on the heels of the goods train in the previous photo which no doubt the station foremen, in consultation with the Operating selector clerk, had decided would clear the next section to Booth and the junction to Bayhead without delaying the special – although the rugby fans on board enjoying their leisurely breakfast wouldn’t have known (or cared) much about that!  This was possibly the second-last time the old Blue Train was used for this purpose, its replacement was already taking shape on the drawing boards and soon would be under construction at Union Carriage & Wagon’s plant at Nigel in the Transvaal.  Already there seems to be a slip in standards, with the Blue Train units in less than pristine condition and South Africa’s Number One train running without so much as a headboard – but at least this allowed us to identify E615 as the lead unit!
(That's a lot of information for one caption: thank you Ashley Peter and Peter Stow)   

15. In the Durban Harbour edition of Soul of A Railway (part 3 of the Natal System) we saw some of Brian’s photos of the brand new imported General Motors Class 34-200 locos being offloaded at the Point early in 1972, and then leaving the harbour as a “block load” hauled by four Class 6E1 units, with E1298 leading the quartet.  He must have raced from Cato Creek to Mount Vernon to get this shot of the same train, probably only about twenty minutes later.  Just a short while before, at Rossburgh, this twenty locomotive train would have commenced the steady climb inland, much of it at the ruling 1:66 gradient which continues almost unabated for the next 60km to Cato Ridge.  After that there is finally some respite on the level followed by undulating sections between Umlaas Road and Napier whereafter the climb resumes in earnest again, steepening to 1:50 from Pietermaritzburg up Town Hill and beyond.    

16. Turning the clock back, here are two class 1E units on a passenger train crossing the viaduct over the Mhlatuzana River between Burlington and Cavendish – the outer-home and distant signals are just out of view to the left of the photo. Peter Stow adds:  "The first coach is a Watson version of the Hendrie type H-9 third class balcony coach with angled truss gear and square panels between the windows. After these vehicles were placed in service, Mr. Watson introduced his closed vestibule coaches for all future procurement."   

17. Whereas the Blue Train was a very occasional visitor to Durban prior to 1972, by the end of that year it suddenly became a regular feature on the public timetable, but in the guise of a new train – the Drakensberg – running weekly in each direction.  Following the introduction of the new Blue Train sets between Pretoria and Cape Town, one of the old sets was hastily refurbished and repainted in time for the Summer holiday season, when it began running as the Drakensberg; overnight between Johannesburg and Durban.  It is shown here approaching Cavendish en route to Durban on a Saturday morning in December 1972, sporting the initial dark green colour scheme.  This did not seem to find favour and when the second set went through Koedoespoort Mechanical Workshops it came out in a much lighter, rather washed-out sort of powder green, which was then adopted as the Drakensberg’s standard livery.  Whilst not provided for yet, this would eventually be one of the few trains in the country which included lengthy DD-type open goods wagons (gondolas) on high speed bogies for the conveyance of the passenger’s motor vehicles, quickly earning it the rather ironic nickname of “The Green Mixed”!   

18. A week or two later Brian again set up between Burlington and Cavendish to photograph the passage of the Drakensberg set, showing off the bottle green scheme to good effect.  This angle also provided a better view of the graceful arches of the bridge over the Mhlatuzana River.  The Drakensberg (76101-down and 67104-up) was booked to run just a few minutes ahead of the Trans-Natal in both directions, but with very few intermediate passengers and one less passenger stop en route, it tended to draw away from the latter train and there were seldom delays.  As can be seen, it entered service in the top link category and was allocated a pristine set of 5E1’s – even though in this case it didn’t quite extend to white-walled tyres!   

19. This was just after 07:30 on a Saturday morning in the summer of 1978 and 56071-down, the Bloemfontein – Durban daily except Sundays slow train, (previously simply 71-down) heads through Cavendish, less than 30 minutes from its destination, the driver’s assistant vigorously acknowledging the guard’s green flag.  Having left Bloemfontein behind a (probably) spotless 25NC the previous morning at 09:00, and carrying through coaches from a variety of origins, including Kimberley, East London, Port Elizabeth, Ladysmith and Cape Town, 56071 was a veritable mish-mash by the time it reached Durban.  A little known fact was that when it shunted off its dining car in the dead of night at Ladysmith (for the opposing 65072), it also picked up a 1st/2nd composite coach that had left Bloemfontein some eleven hours before 56071 on 55547, the overnight train from Bloemfontein to Bethlehem (previously 81-down).  It was then taken forward on 56665 mixed (previously 665) to Ladysmith where the occupied coach would be placed in the bay platform for some eight hours to await 56071 to catch up – meaning that passengers who elected to make this journey spent two nights and a day from Bloemfontein to Durban!
While on the subject of lengthy journeys, let us imagine for a moment that this is actually train 76341, which would have preceded 56071 through Cavendish by an hour that day.  There must have been some kind of perverse competition in the main line passenger service planning office in Johannesburg around this time.  For example, we all know about the two nights and a day trip which was the norm between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, but who would believe that one could actually emulate this between Johannesburg and Durban?  Well, it is true!  Prior to 1977, the so-called “milk train”, No 76191 would leave Johannesburg mid-morning and, stopping at no less than 84 intermediate places, arrive in Durban some twenty hours later at 06:55 next morning.  However, the powers-that-be were obviously not satisfied with such a speedy option. They withdrew this train and instead devised a much more circuitous route which must have flabbergasted unsuspecting passengers who undertook the full journey (if there ever were any!).  Train 76341 departed Johannesburg daily at 21:10 and from Germiston onward stopped at virtually every station via Springs, Devon, Trichardt, Bethal, Breyten, Ermelo, Piet Retief, Paulpietersburg, Vryheid and Dundee, before rejoining the Natal Main Line (and 76191’s original route) at Glencoe. It then continued stopping everywhere until Cato Ridge, arriving in Durban at 06:55 on the second morning – having called at no less than 120 stations during the 34-hour journey (or should that be ordeal?)! Incidentally, its opposite number, 67344, followed precisely the same route in the reverse direction, crossing three of its down train equivalents, at Mooi River, Piet Retief and Leven (near Trichardt); meaning that running this service required no less than six complete train sets!  The only consolations would be that the Springs – Breyten section would probably still have been 15F-worked at this time, and the Ermelo – Vryheid daylight trip would have been on the brand spanking new Richard’s Bay Coal Line – before pesky passenger trains were banned from this important freight route. Perhaps die-hard railway enthusiasts might have approved of the journey, but probably not the average member of the public!  By the way, the SAR obviously wasn’t too proud of this interesting option and, even though it was clearly a through working from Johannesburg to Durban (and vice versa), it never appeared in the summarised intercity pages at the front of the passenger timetable!  Apparently sanity did eventually prevail a year or two later, and 76191 (and its opposite working, 67196) were reintroduced, again running as a direct service, reverting to the comparatively snappy twenty hour schedule.    

20. On a sunny winter’s morning in 1973 this pair of 5E1 units were passing through Cavendish with 209-down, the Durban-bound Orange Express, just half an hour from its destination.  The almost uniform set of red and cream coaches was only marred by the twin dining car set midway down the train in regular SAR red and grey livery.  

21. Having waited another 25 minutes after the passage of 56071 at Cavendish, Brian would have been rewarded with the appearance of 1013, the 06:25 Cato Ridge to Durban Saturdays and Sundays only stopping passenger, worked by standard eleven coach 4M set M13.  1013 was booked to depart Cato Ridge just minutes after 56071 had called, conveying any long distance passengers from the latter to intermediate stations and allowing 56071 to run non-stop from Cato Ridge to Durban.  On weekdays long distance passengers were not so kindly treated and would have to prepare themselves for a 90 minute wait, when local No 1015 would carry them further, only departing Cato Ridge at 07:55.  Note the open swing-door on the first class leading motor-coach – obviously trains running with open doors are not a new phenomenon in South Africa! 

22. A splendid view of a Down Orange Express crossing the Mhlatuzana viaduct as it approached Cavendish, the distant signal for which can be seen in the “off” position informing the driver that his train has the main line and a clear road through to the next station, Mount Vernon, allowing it to proceed at section speed through the station.  As was usual at the time, a pair of very well turned out 5E1’s is at the head, complete with a neat headboard, the uniform roofline making for a handsome-looking train – perhaps the only detractions being that some of the coaches don’t appear to be in the dedicated red and cream Orange Express livery and the lounge car that has a silver roof.  By the way, that’s not a squatter camp springing up in the bottom right hand corner - it is a railway infrastructure camp presumably being set up for a maintenance or new works project.  

23. Two 5E units with the Orange Express between old Brereton and Shongweni tunnels near Dellville Wood (this is the exact same location as photo 1)The consist is interesting as it helps to provide an approximate date as to when it was taken presumably by an official SAR photographer.  The make-up of the train shows a D-32-C (1st & 2nd class reserved) saloon followed by four E-16 steel 2nd class saloons and an A-24 (PROTEA) or an A-28 (KEISKAMA) twin diner in what appears to be the early Indian Red & Cream livery of the Orange Express.  The presence of the E-16 saloons dates this photo at around 1957/8 when they were placed in service on this train. 

24.  Type 4M set M17 working 1014-up approaching Cavendish station, near the same location as photos 2 and 7 but in the opposite direction.   

25. The Durban-bound Orange Express between Thornwood and Mariannhill, hauled by two class 5E1 locomotives.   


26. In the winter of 1970 Brian photographed 212-up, the westbound Orange Express, sporting a full rake of modern all-steel elliptical roofed coaches, running through Mariannhill at about 4.45 pm – less than an hour into its 40 hour journey to Cape Town, including more than a full day of steam-haulage from Kroonstad to Beaufort West.    

27. In late 1980 this down Durban bound type 4M set had been brought to a halt at the Mariannhill outer home signal. The rugged countryside which the new main line traverses can clearly be seen in this picture.   


28. Another SAR publicity photo between Thornwood and Mariannhill showing two 5E1s working a main line passenger train – either 191 or 71, heading for Durban.   

29. Class 1Es with E76 leading, near Delville Wood (old alignment) working a heavy goods load down to Durban.  Note the enthusiastic crew on the 1E watching the photographer photographing their train!    


30. A down passenger train, possibly the Trans-Natal, hauled by 1959-built 1st series class 5E1, 375 passing through old Delville Wood on its way to Durban.  This was prior to the building of the tunnels which eliminated, among others, the curve behind the train. The first 3 vehicles behind the locomotives are short bogie specie vans no doubt carrying gold in their large safes up to a weight varying between 10 and 12 tons, depending on the specific vehicle.  For security, each vehicle was accompanied by a railway policeman.    

31. One of the special (Durban July or rugby special?) Down Blue Trains coming into Dellville Wood on the old (now abandoned) alignment, before the New Brereton Tunnels were built.    

32.  A pair of 1Es with No 4 leading on a local passenger working, emerging from Delville Wood tunnel in the Up direction. The date is unknown but probably in the 1950s and definitely before 1960 when the new coach livery was introduced.   

33. Shall Cross. Note how well-maintained the station and its environs were in those SAR days.  John Baxter, the well-known modeller of SAR in 3/16ths scale, grew up here in the early thirties when his father was stationmaster.  John once related a harrowing experience at Shallcross when he was aged ten: charging around with his schoolmates as youngsters are wont to do they ran barefooted across the tracks and John's foot got stuck in a wingrail of the up main-line facing points just as a GL with a heavy goods was plodding up the bank leading into the station.  In a panic freeze, John and his mates tugged with all their might to no avail.  Just when they had given up all hope the engine driver spotted the kids, blew his whistle and applied maximum brakes, coming to a halt but a few yards away.  The driver calmly got down from his engine, pulled John upright and turned his foot parallel with the flangeway, whereupon it came loose without any effort at all!   


34. The Trans-Natal (199-down) exiting Nshongweni tunnel on the Brereton Ridge alignment towards Delville Wood. Note the “Specie Van” behind the Vapour-Clarkson steam-heating unit.  This van was attached to train 199 arriving Durban on Thursdays with gold bullion for transfer to the weekly Union Castle mailship in Durban Harbour.  Note also, the clean locomotives – a feature of passenger train working on the Natal System in the 1960s.    

35. Train 199 or 209 (Trans-Natal or Orange Express) just above Mariannhill.  

36. A heavy down goods with two 5E1s approaching the tunnel just north of Shallcross.   

37. This “mystery” photo still needs a positive location to be identified. It is possibly near Cliffdale.    

38. Ashley Peter comments: 
"It’s almost 4 o’clock on a weekday afternoon in the early 1960’s as this Class 5E1 unit brakes the six coaches of train no. 1049 as it approaches Cliffdale, where it will take the left-hand turnout into the Down Loop platform line, having negotiated the five-mile continuous 1:66 downgrade from Hammarsdale.  These coaches would have had an interesting excursion, having left Durban at about 10.30 am the previous morning as train no. 24 (at one time called train no. 34), the mail train that ran up the Old Main Line via Pinetown to Pietermaritzburg, arriving at around 2.45 pm.  There a light goods load from Mason’s Mill would have been attached and, still running as 24-Up, would have departed for Danskraal (Ladysmith) at 3.30 pm, all-stops to Mooi River, where the coaches were shunted off at 6 pm.  It then proceeded, attaching more goods traffic along the way, including empty dairy wagons from the Mooi River Creamery, to Danskraal with a booked arrival time of 9.45 pm.  Returning to the six coaches – these would have formed the next morning’s light mixed train 1091-down, leaving Mooi River at 7 am, all-stops to Pietermaritzburg (including one or two “milepost request stops”), arriving at 10 am.  Finally, at about 2.30 pm, with the goods traffic having been removed to Mason’s Mill, the same coaches would depart Pietermaritzburg for Durban as 1049-down, once again as a fully-fledged passenger train, but now running via the New Main Line, as seen above.  The next morning this consist would start its merry-go-round trip as no. 24-up to Pinetown and beyond all over again.  As an interesting aside:  One wonders how many trains led such a varied existence as 24-up, running first as a full passenger train; then changing to a mixed; and finally evolving into a complete goods load – all in the space of ten hours, and with none of the original vehicles making it through to the final destination!

We seem to have a bit of a dispute here, because Peter Stow has come up with a few questions!:
"There is something not right with the caption. In the early 60’s the coaches to Mooi River were very distinct and I attach a slide of the consist [see photo 73]. This particular train shown has been strengthened by an ex CSAR coach leading, followed by the usual ex NGR main line 3rd, a type Q suburban and one or 2 day saloons followed by a main line van. This composition was consistent throughout the early 60’s. I have another taken on the other side of PMB by the Publicity Department confirming this.

Of the 5 coaches shown, all are 3rd class except the third vehicle which seems to be a 3 classes van. If it was a 6 coach train, where are the first and second class coaches?

Third class suburban brake vans based in Durban and Pietermaritzburg had their guards compartment on the Up-side (inland side) against the locomotive on trains leaving Durban. This then seems to imply that this may have been an Up train. However, in all my years in Durban spending many days at the station, I never saw a composition like this and can only surmise that it may have been a special holiday working where all the remaining coaches in the yard were put together to form a special train. Maybe Charles Parry can assist here.

Ashley then responded as follows:

"With reference to photo 34, [my research] was based on the WTB of the day, and indicated that 1049 would have been about the only possible regularly scheduled train with a consist approximately as shown [therefore] the following post script is suggested:-  The identification of this as train 1049 is based largely on its motive power and consist – this being the only regular locomotive-hauled local passenger train from Pietermaritzburg to Durban (via the New Main Line) in the mid-1960’s.  Peter Stow has however pointed out that the make-up of the train appears at odds with the usual consist of 24/1091/1049 and, as it appears to have 3rd class coaches in the front, it could even have been an Up train heading from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. If this was not 1049 then it was in all likelihood a special working, to which virtually anything that could be found spare in the origin coach yard has been attached!". 

Peter was not done yet:

"If the train was the Durban bound set the first and second class coaches would have been behind the locomotive. The lighting on the train seems to indicate a midday Up train and not a late afternoon down train. If this is a Down train it would also have been a special working as the suburban and main line coaches are occupied. Suburban coaches on transfer were not normally occupied."

So there we have it, another unresolved mystery.  If anyone can throw more light on the matter this would be very welcome.


39. A pair of Class 1E's (No 16 leading) leave Mariannhill with an Up goods train consisting of a block load of empty B and DZ mine bogies, in all likelihood destined for Glencoe or Vryheid, the photo probably dating from the early 1960's.  An interesting point is that according to the Working Time Books (WTB's) of the day, Class 1E's were only permitted to haul a full-length load of 160 axles (40 wagons) in the Up direction when the load consisted entirely of empty bogie stock.  The standing instructions stipulated that including any short wagons or loaded bogies would immediately require the load to be reduced to 140 axles.   

40. Another Departmental photo shows two 5E1 units working a Bombela, 190-up from Durban to Johannesburg, just north of Mount Vernon.  The sets used on these trains were the only ones in the country where an effort was made from the introduction of the train to use only the most modern 3rd class coaches available.  These were type H-32 sleepers built by the Union Carriage and Wagon Company and placed in service between June 1961 and September 1962, resulting in uniform rakes of coaches except for the composite coaches at the rear.   

41. A special up passenger train to either Cape Town or Johannesburg has had to take the loop at Mariannhill to overtake a relatively short goods train, which also seems to have an abnormal load in the consist, hauled by no less than 5 (count ‘em) class 1E’s.  Photo taken sometime in 1969.   

42. One can almost hear the hum of the class 5E1 locomotives, the sound of wheels clattering over the set of points and feel the gentle rocking of the timber bodied coaches as the same train in the previous photo rejoins the main line and starts to increase in speed.   


43. In 1953 I had a most enjoyable trip on the Orange Express from Cape Town to Durban.  I took this photo from my C-22 articulated saloon near Cliffdale.  The twin diner was type A-28/AA-29 KEISKAMA and I can add that the meals were superb. Two class 1E units in charge.  Note the check-rail curves again.   

44. A pair of very clean 1E electrics are seen in this Departmental photo working an Up main line passenger train between Mariannhill and Thornwood which appears to be train 192. (later known as the Trans Natal).   

45. An SAR photograph shows 199-down approaching Mariannhill. These trains only conveyed 1st and 2nd class passengers and ran to fast timings with limited intermediate stops.  A few class 1E locomotives were specially re-geared to work these daily expresses at speeds of 55mph - the maximum then allowed on the SAR.   


46. The next 14 photos by Greg Hart reflect the current scene and Greg has kindly provided the captions for his work. Over to Greg: "10 May 2015 was the first time that the new 20E locomotives were seen on the Blue Train on the Natal region. They are seen here heading home on a Sunday afternoon just before Shallcross".   

47. The daily Cato Ridge all stops suburban that leaves Durban at 11:07 is seen here rushing through the New Brereton Tunnels passing Kirk falls with a newish 10M5 set, 8 Jan 2011.   

48. A late afternoon Up train passing through Nshongweni Station with empty wagons - 24 July 2012.   

49. Sleeper replacement works train passing Bux Farm between Nshongweni and Cliffdale, headed by 35-636 in the up direction heading home to Cato Ridge or Masons Mill. 30 May 2013.   

50. The Blue Train ran a few specials to Durban in July and August 2014. Sunday afternoon shot on 14 August shows the return trip in the up direction between Nshongweni and Cliffdale.   

51. On 10 May 2015, the new 20E locomotives with the Blue Train were seen here heading home on a Sunday afternoon just after Bux Farm between  Nshongweni and Cliffdale.   

52. On 22 November 2015 this Up local Suburban working with a short 10M5 set was heading up towards Cato Ridge in the late afternoon after Bux Farm.   

53. On 4 February 2012 this Up local Suburban 5M2A, the standard 11 coach set for this section of line, was seen here after Bux Farm nearing Cliffdale tunnel.   

54. No 1062-up, a daily all stops to Cato Ridge, approaching the Cliffdale level crossing in the Up direction. A graffiti artist has shown his appreciation of the leading motor coach's “proper” classic pantographs - one of the few remaining. Late afternoon 30 July 2012.   

55. On 10 May 2015 the Blue Train with her new class 20Es was passing over Cliffdale level crossing while Eskom technicians worked on the nearby power lines.   

56. On 18 July 2015 the Blue Train again visited Natal – one of several visits in July. The new 20E locos were being used on another trip elsewhere at the time, so at least we got some nice new clean 18E’s to make this photo.   


57. One of the few daily petrol trains that one sees on the Main Line, here near Jordan crossovers between Hammarsdale and Cliffdale. This was a Down train heading for Durban with a new upgraded 18E loco on 24 July 2012.   

58. On 4 February 2015 the daily Up block fuel from Fynnland to the Reef, heading up the valley between Cliffdale and Hammarsdale just after Jordan Crossovers.   

59. The Daily Cato Ridge shunt job that normally services all sidings around Cato Ridge, also shunted Hammarsdale coal siding once/week was photographed at Hammarsdale yard on 10 January 2011. During 2012 these EMD GM 35-600’s were replaced by the much stronger EMD GM 34-600’s & 34-800’s as the loads became heavier – a situation that prevails today.   

60. Stepping back more than 100 years we have this view of Cato Ridge in 1904 unearthed by Bruno: "It was opened as a stopping place in 1882 to replace the triangle laid down by the construction contractors of the old main line nearby. The station building seen here was completed by the NGR in 1901. With the completion of the ‘New’ Main Line in 1921, Cato Ridge became the junction for both main lines coming up from the coast albeit following different routes".   

61. The caption of this undated photograph received with from Allen Duff reads: “Johannesburg - Durban Mail Train, hauled by Class 14 No.1713, running south of Pietermaritzburg”.  There were only two sections of double track south of Pietermaritzburg in the early 1920s – from Pietermaritzburg to Pentrich and from Umlaas Road to Cato Ridge. Either of these two sections may have been the setting for George Alexander's photo. One of D A Hendrie’s successful 4-8-2 designs, Class 14 No 1713 was among the initial batch of 20 Class 14 locomotives ordered from R Stephenson & Co and placed in traffic during 1913-14.

The 1924 General Manager’s Annual Report states:”From the 14th May, 1923, the daily passenger train from Durban to Johannesburg, which hitherto had departed at 5:50 pm, was altered to leave Durban at 2:15 pm, the schedule running time being reduced by 3 hours and 5 minutes; from 26 November, 1923, the time was still further reduced by 33 minutes. The schedule time for the train leaving Johannesburg at 8:45 pm for Durban was from the former date curtailed by 25 minutes, and from the latter date by a further 42 minutes.” 

62. Class 1Es bringing a down block load of what looks like a mixture of locomotive and power station coal through Cato Ridge in what looks like some time during the 1950s.


Having arrived at Cato Ridge this is a good moment to introduce Bruno's map and profiles of the section onward to Pietermaritzburg. The scale of the engineering works that created the present day alignment is enormous. It is interesting to note the improvements since the 1880 NGR route (the "Old Main Line"), which meticulously followed the Umsunduzi/Tala watershed with minimum earthworks, while the easier graded 1919 deviation took a circuitous route crossing three tributaries of the Umsunduzi.  In 1965 these were replaced by the much more ambitious present-day main line, including 2½ miles of tunneling and more than a mile of new bridges - this within the space of 12 miles. The most striking aspect of the next map is its illustration of the lengths that SAR went to to provide a competitive world-class railway.  But let Bruno take over the commentary:


"The main obstacle on the section of the main line opened in 1880 between Umsindusi (from 1906 Pentrich) and Thornville Junction was a climb of 760ft (232m) over a distance of 5¾ miles (9,25km) to the ’62 mile summit’ between Fox Hill and Thornville Junction. In 1914 combined-banked goods working from Pietermaritzburg to Thornville Junction was a mode of operation which engaged three locomotives (one leading, one centre and a banker). The maximum load was 953 tons (100 axles) when employing a mallet, a Class 3A and a Class H (Reid ‘Ten-wheeler’) assisting from the rear.

After several alignment options were investigated between Pentrich and Umlaas Road, a circuitous single track line was built, 19 miles 17 chains (31km) long, that literally draped itself around the intervening valleys of the Malkopspruit, Mpushini and Mkondeni. It was graded at 1 in 100 towards the coast and 1 in 70 inland with curvature of 720 ft (219m) minimum radius. By adopting such a roundabout route it comes as no surprise that the distance between Pentrich to a point south of the old Umlaas Road station was three-quarters of a mile (1,2km) longer than over the old main line via Thornville Junction. There was a short tunnel, the Garter or Mkondeni , 771 ft (235m) long, piercing the ridge near Mkondeni (M’Kondeni) station. This ‘alternative’ main line was opened to all traffic on 11 May 1919. There were 4 stations: Ethelvale, Thornybush (renamed Mpushini in the early 1950s), Ashburton, Mkondeni and Oribi Camp halt was a later addition. On the new alignment a single Class 14 was able to move 1300 tons (100 axles) from Umlaas Road to Thornybush, 850 tons from Thornybush to Ashburton, 800 tons from Ashburton to Mkondeni and 1300 tons from Mkondeni to Pietermaritzburg. In the reverse direction a single Class 14 could move 1100 tons (100 axles) throughout  from Pietermaritzburg to Umlaas Road.

A further extension to the Natal Main Line electrification was completed when the section from Masons Mill to Cato Ridge via Ashburton was taken into use on 29 February 1932."

63. Originally listed as a watering stop on the farm Vaal Kop, 50½ miles from Durban in 1880, thereafter Umlaas Road appeared as a stopping place in the 1883 time-table and was opened as a crossing station on in February 1901. The style of station building was typical of all new crossing stations built by the NGR post 1900.

Together with track duplication to Cato Ridge, Umlaas Road station was re-sited by the SAR on the new alignment completed in 1917 which placed it on the junction between the new direct line to Pentrich via Ashburton (in the process of being built at the time) and the old main line to Pentrich via Thornville.

64. Umlaas Road station in its post 1917 location with an upstairs signal cabin. Modderpoort, the junction for Ladybrand on the Eastern OFS Main Line had a similar building and the upper portion was also a signal cabin so it is likely that similar designs were used.

65. This is another scene of yesteryear at Umlaas Road – a narrow-gauge Garratt is seen shunting wagons in preparation for departing for Mid-Illovo on the 2ft gauge branch line. Judging by the angle of the sun, Dave was travelling on 34-up, the 14R-hauled 10:50 daily Durban - Pietermaritzburg via Pinetown and Thornville (all stations after Kloof), a WONDERFUL service that ran with steam right into 1959. 

66. Photos of real steam on the original 1919 line from Umlaas Road to Pentrich are hard to come by so I settled for this one from the Transnet Heritage Library (submitted by Greg Hart) of a brand-new domeless 19D at Thornybush, taken on 24 Nov 38 (!) possibly by the Stationmaster.  Comment by Ashley Peter:

"This THL photo that Greg [Hart] has found is historical in its own right, as it appears to show a Krupp-built domeless 19D awaiting a crossing at Thornybush station (later to become known as Mpushini), in November 1938.  Built in 1937, this almost new 19D was quite possibly on transfer to Empangeni, where classes 19, 19A and 19D were the staple motive power on the lightly laid track northwards through Zululand to Golela on the Swaziland border for many years.  Thornybush was one of two stations on the "original 1919 New Main Line" between Umlaas Road and Ashburton, the other being Ethelvale.  In the next section, from Ashburton to Pentrich, there was only one station, namely Mkondeni.  The Pentrich - Mkondeni section of this line was the only one to survive the opening of the current New Main Line in 1965, and remained in regular use for almost another 40 years as a service line for the Pietermaritzburg Municipal Fresh Produce Market and Scottish Cables.  With the Railway's catastrophic decision to cease individual wagonload traffic both of these private sidings eventually closed and the line fell into disuse in the early 2000's - although it did see a few Umgeni Steam Railway runs from Pietermaritzburg station before its eventual closure".

Later, Ashley added:

"The 19D picture remains intriguing.....  Greg reckons the loco is facing towards Pietermaritzburg, which would suggest that it is heading inland.  Although the photo has a date stamp of November 1938, I guess the actual exposure could well have been taken some time earlier and this (very new looking!) loco may have been on delivery immediately after erection in Durban Workshops - did they assemble 19D's at Durban, I wonder (this series of 19D is listed as entering service in 1937)?  Alternatively, it might have been sent to Empangeni for trials on the Zululand route and was now being returned...  The other possibility is that the loco WAS en route to Durban and beyond but the driver had simply elected to run tender-first due to the tunnels encountered along the way...."

67. Charles's take of the siding at Oribi Camp showing the track arrangement before the siding was removed with the replacement track waiting to be installed c 1956/57.  Note the hand tumbler (on the main line!) and facing points lock.  I have clear memories of passing this halt on 192-up as a schoolboy during WW2 when I lived in Durban.  I travelled with my mom to visit family in Johannesburg at that time.  I remember seeing convalescing soldiers at the military hospital sitting in wheelchairs near the railway fence, watching trains going by.  Hospital trains regularly ran from the harbour; taking patients off hospital ships for medical attention at Oribi.  Sadly, many British soldiers travelled by hospital trains all the way to Baragwanath Hospital near Canada Junction (in turn near Johannesburg) - these were blokes who had contracted TB from the dust in the Western Desert Campaigns.

From Ashley Peter, an article by Michael Cottrell first published in the Natal Newsletter:

"Oribi Camp was a siding on the former Umlaas Road to Pentrich via Ashburton deviation shown on the map compiled by Bruno Martin in 'The Natal Old Main Line from Durban to Pietermaritzburg'*.  The line opened in 1919 and was electrified in 1932 to provide easier gradients compared to the original railway from Umlaas Road via Thornville to Pentrich.  The original halt was probably established at the Oribi Road level crossing during the 1939 to 1945 World War II when the Military Camp and Hospital was located in this area.  It later had a siding for trains bringing injured soldiers to the hospital.

When I attended the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg from 1954 to 1957 our Men's Residence was in the former Hospital part of the camp, some 2,3 km from the University.  On several occasions I caught a stopping train at Oribi Camphalt which was timetabled as an "S" stop: trains only stopped to set down or pick up passengers.  It was rudimentary with no platform.  Early in the year the University students held their annual Rag to raise money for charities.  It was held in Pietermaritzburg on a Friday and in Durban, where Pietermaritzburg students assisted, on a Saturday.  In my first and second year we travelled to and from Durban by train which departed from and returned to Oribi Camp halt.

Charles Parry's photograph of the Oribi Camp halt is interesting as it was obviously taken before the time that I was in the Residence at Oribi, for there was no corrugated iron structure or the indicator for a siding.  It will be noted that
[replacement] railway track was stacked at the side of the line.  This was from the former siding onto which hospital trains were shunted to take war casualties to the hospital.  The indicator obviously served this siding.

The University Men's Residence is no longer at Oribi and Oribi Camp halt has long since gone with the opening of the 1965 shorter improved double line between Umlaas Road and Pentrich with only Ashburton station remaining in a slightly different location.  A few years ago I walked past the old Oribi Camp halt and while the unused railway still exists from Pentrich to the old Mkondeni station, there is no evidence of Oribi Camp halt."

“The Natal Old Main Line from Durban to Pietermaritzburg” published by the KwaZulu-Natal Railway History Society in 2015  page 114

68. Just for a moment we'll return to the section between Cato Ridge and Umlaas Road before diverting onto the original NGR main line from there to Pietermaritzburg via Thornville.

Peter comments on his picture: "Once platforms were raised as far as Cato Ridge from Durban, allowing the use of type 5M2A sliding door suburban sets on that section, passengers for stations beyond Cato Ridge to Pietermaritzburg had to change trains to sets that could be used where low or no platforms existed. By Thursday 14 July 1988 when this photograph was made, the Cato Ridge -Pietermaritzburg shuttle via Thornville was a neat, uniform rake of modern steel main line coaches released from the many main line services withdrawn from 1984 onward by the government of the time. It would not be long before this train would meet the same fate and also be axed. It is seen here approaching Umlaas Road behind a series 5 class 5E1 1079. It was some 60 years since regular steam operated on this line but the level crossing warning sign on the adjacent road still depicts a steam locomotive.  Old habits die hard or was it someone being optimistic?"   


69. Three 1E units (E33 leading) were photographed crossing the Mpushini viaduct near Ashburton with a heavy coal train.  This and the next photo would have been made soon after the deviation, regrading and doubling on a completely new alignment necessitating several tunnels between Umlaas Road and Pentrich was completed in 1965 at a cost of R10 million (more than a billion rands in today's monopoly money).    

70. The Mpushini viaduct is again featured in this photo.  Two 5E1 units with a down mixed goods were heading south.  The southern approach embankment was some 60ft high.  It was this fill that resulted in SAR civil engineers finally realising that the old end-dumping system with cocopans was no longer suitable for heavy traffic situations.  Within 3 months of opening the deviation the fill had settled several feet and every few days ballast was being used to keep the running top level.  After a year the line had to be closed for several weeks to allow the embankment to be properly compacted.  The engineers responsible were sent off to attend soil mechanics classes.

71. Ashley Peter commented on this photo as follows:   "A Down train on the [Mpushini] viaduct (between Ashburton and Umlaas Road). It looks like train 71 and has class 5E1’s at the head-end - the leading one of series 5".   

72. The Mkondeni viaduct is one of several impressive civil engineering structures on the double-track alignment opened in 1965 between Umlaas Road and Pentrich to replace the circuitous single track line of 1919. Another structure of the same design is located between Ashburton and Umlaas Road crossing the Mpushini. Closer to Pentrich, a lofty bridge rises above the roofs of the houses in Bisley to cross the valley of the Foxhillspruit. In addition to these three colossal structures and extensive earthworks there are also 5 twin tunnels. An entirely new station was provided at Ashburton while both Umlaas Road and Pentrich yards were extensively remodelled. The new alignment is some 10km shorter and 2954 degrees of curvature on the old alignment was reduced to a mere 948. The SAR certainly did not skimp when this section of the Natal Main line was rebuilt!   

73. We'll go back to Umlaas Road to travel for a while over the original NGR main line via Thornville. We could do worse than ride No 34-up, shown leaving Umlaas Road with 1E unit E41. 
This terrific photo comes to us via Peter Stow who has this to say about it:
"Arguably one of the more interesting train consists running out of Durban in the early 1960s were the sets used for 34-up, the daily except Sundays 11:20 to Mooi River via the Old Main Line. I can still hear the announcer at the old Durban station: “The train standing at platform 5 is the 11:20 to Mooi River, stopping at Berea Road, Rossburgh (which he pronounced Rossburg), Pinetown, Kloof, thereafter all stations to Mooi River.” Later in the decade it was renumbered 24 and was no longer a semi-express to Kloof, stopping at most of the stations on the Durban side of that station. It was seldom photographed by the locals, some of whom had the myopic view that if it was not steam, it was not worth photographing [OK, OK, that includes at least one of your authors]. Fortunately, “Bill” Vigrass, an American on assignment here in the mid 60s, photographed 34-up and here it is seen leaving Umlaas Road in 1964 behind class 1E No E41, taking the route via Thornville as indicated by the advance starter. Note the 2’ 0” narrow gauge line to Mid-Illovo in the foreground.
"The normal consist of this particular set has been strengthened by the addition of an ex-Central South African Railways third class coach of type H-3, built in 1909, followed by the regularly assigned ex Natal Government Railways third class coach number 6409 of type S-86, originally of type H-4 number 2386 but later re-classified and re-numbered into the suburban series, being one of only 2 built in 1910. By 1967 this coach was scrapped. The third vehicle is a tri-composite of type Q-18-C built in 1933 for branch lines but used extensively on Durban’s suburban services. The following two vehicles are what were known as day saloons, coaches with compartments but having no sleeping accommodation. The first appears to be a first class coach of type L-17 originally built for express services between Johannesburg and Pretoria while the second is a recently outshopped type M-24 originally built for Free State branch lines. Finally the main line guards and baggage van at the rear is a type K-42." 

"This train took 6 hours 26 minutes to cover the 131 mile journey. No wonder some unappreciative members of the public referred to the old SAR as the Slow and Restful.

74. One of the feeder sets operating between Pietermaritzburg and Cato Ridge with a mixture of main line and suburban coaches, hauled by class 5E1 616 approaching Thornville Junction in May 1988 (see also photo 68 above).   

75. On 25 August 1974, the Durban branch of the RSSA organised a special train from Durban to Richmond and return via the OML.  Here is that train climbing between Umlaas Road and Thornville with the resplendent 14R 1733 running on rails she had been polishing for more than 60 years.  Driver Andre Nel and his fireman turned out one of the best 14Rs that I have ever seen - in fact, one of the most-polished engines of any class that I have ever seen on SAR. The special to Richmond was actually booked to return with 1733 via the New Main Line. The Reef Branch contingent had to get off at a special stop arranged at Mariannhill (due to late running), so that they could connect with the Drakensberg to Johannesburg.   

76. Here is 14R 1733 again – this time at Thornville running the van around the train before it left for Richmond with GF 2401 “Magdalena”.  1733 proudly carried the name of her shed, “Bayhead”, under her headlight.   

77. Another Dusty Durrant classic from the Dick Manton Collection: well-maintained GCA 2197 at Thornville prior to working a livestock special down the Richmond branch, April 1969.   


78. The Cato Ridge shuttle climbing up the valley towards the 62-mile summit between Foxhill and Thornville on the NGR main line from Pentrich to Umlaas Road.  

79. Class 5E1 No 616 seems to have had an altercation with a cement vehicle given the appearance of the front of the locomotive as it departs Thornville for Cato Ridge. Note the route indicating starter signals; here pulled for the main line, while the one below it is for the Richmond branch.    

80. Class 5E1 623 leads a down beer train through Pentrich in May, 1988. It is presumed that the recently outshopped passenger guards and baggage van of type K-43 at the back of the train carried security staff to minimize theft of the valuable cargo. Theft was so bad on certain routes that security staff had to accompany certain trains carrying high value cargo. Even passenger trains that stood at signals in dubious areas had their massive batteries stolen from the underframes.    

81. 5E1 No 616 leading the Pietermaritzburg - Cato Ridge shuttle away from Pentrich station on the old main line via Thornville. The timber bodied suburban coaches are bracketed by steel main line third class and van type GH-1 coaches.   

82. Trains no longer call here.  The fine lineage of Pentrich station building cannot be obliterated, not even by neglect. 2014 photo.  

83. Umsindusi opened as a stopping place in December 1880 and served as a siding for staging loads. The steep climb from the northern end of the bridge over the Umsindusi River to Pietermaritzburg yard often necessitated leaving a part of the load behind at Umsindusi. Initially up to six wagons could be accommodated and it was the duty of the station master at Pietermaritzburg station to arrange clearing any loads left behind. Even with the introduction of the powerful 4-10-2T Reid ‘Ten-Wheelers’ in 1900 it was still necessary to reduce the load from 390 tons – the train load governed by the grades between Camperdown and Thornville – by 95 tons to 295 tons.

This undated photograph of Umsindusi, complete with gas light and foliage adorning the overhanging roof’s support posts, depicts the neat wayside station building erected in the early years of the Natal Main Line.

84. The neat timber and corrugated iron building at Umsindusi was replaced with a more substantial “salmon-red” brick building in 1901. I’m not sure what rank or importance the person in uniform had who was posing for the photographer.  Its function as a station was short-lived: it became redundant upon the completion of a deviation on an easier graded alignment to Pietermaritzburg in 1906 and was replaced with a new station a stone’s throw away which was similar in design (see photo 82).  When the new station was opened in 1906 the name was changed to Pentrich.  

Charles Parry provided this additional information:

"When the new station was opened.......the name ‘Umsinduzi’ was dropped........because the portion of the adjacent farmland on which the new station stood and the realigned tracks were laid was donated to the NGR on condition that the farm’s name ‘Pentrich’ be used. This the NGR accepted. I have known the family of the owner of the farm for many years and his granddaughter’s husband is a member of RSSA and active in USR".  

85. Umsindusi station building of 1901 remained in use as a private residence well into the 1970s when this photograph was taken.  Even the brick support wall forming the side of the raised platform survived under the front wire fence.  After the rails and sleepers had been pulled up, the old main line formation was adapted as the roadway (Woods Drive) which also incorporated the single lane 100 ft (30.5m) long bridge spanning the Umsindusi.  Woods Drive was closed in the early 1980s and the railway bridge removed (which itself had replaced the original 100ft span in 1898) when the flood plain was developed into an industrial estate and the river diverted into a canal.


86. Two 5E1s coming into Pentrich with the Trans-Natal.  An interesting photo in terms of liveries. The units are still in Brunswick green – the Vapour-Clarkson steam-heating unit is in the newer red but with yellow stripes, while the visible coaches are all still carrying the Imperial Brown livery.   

87. Thanks to Allen Duff we have another historical photograph by George Alexander that captures the arrival in Pietermaritzburg of the Natal - Cape Limited with one of Hendrie’s classic ‘maids-of-all-work’ Class 14 No 1755 in charge.
Bruno provides us with the following information about a very interesting train: "The Natal-Cape Limited, the forerunner of the Orange Express, was introduced during 1923 according to the Union time-table issued on 26 January of that year when a Cape-Natal Express service appeared for the first time. A paragraph on page 46 of the General Manager’s Report for 1924 reads“The passenger train service between Capetown [sic], Bloemfontein and Durban, was accelerated in both directions in conjunction with the introduction of the ‘Union Express’ and ‘Union Limited’ trains, the connection with the Orange Free State and Natal being made at Kimberley. The journey from Capetown to Durban now occupies 48 hours 4 minutes, whereas formerly the time taken was 65 hours 19 minutes – a reduction of 17 hours 15 minutes. From Durban to Capetown the time has been reduced by 11 hours 57 minutes.” After May 1926, the Natal-Cape Limited catered for first class passengers only as far as Kimberley, thereafter also second class coaches were added to the consist".  

88. Arriving in Pietermaritzburg we turn the clock way back to the days of the Natal Government Railways.  A “Hendrie B” 4-8-0 No 291 (SAR class 1 No 1261) has just arrived from Durban with what is described as the “British Association” corridor train.  Curiously, there is not a bare-headed person on the platform or in the train.   

89. The driver and assistant of the 1947 Royal Train over the section from Pietermaritzburg to Booth - they worked the three class 1E units - nos.185, 187 and 188 on this section.  Their names are unknown, but if anyone should know who they were we are very keen to include them here.

90. Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday 18 March 1947 had a red-letter day with a visit of the Royal family from 10am to 6pm. The Pilot Train on the left arrived 30 minutes ahead of the Royal Train which is across the platform.  A regular passenger train with a pair of 1E units is standing alongside the main platform.  Those were more relaxed times with the station carrying on as usual while the Royals were having lunch with the Mayor. 
The background of this wonderful picture (which warrants a lot of your attention) is dominated by the notorious Town Hill which practically surrounds the city - not for nothing is it known as "Sleepy Hollow".  For almost 100 years steam battled to get out of the place.    

91. After the celebrations of Tuesday 18 March 1947 the Royal Train was ready to depart for Cato Ridge where it was staged from 6.58pm to 8.30pm before leaving for Booth where the three units - nos.185,187 and 188 were replaced by GEA Garratts 4021 and 4011 for the run up the North Coast for staging again at Frasers.  

92. Pietermaritzburg Shops in Mayor's Walk became the main repair and maintenance centre for electric locomotives in Natal.  A scene in the shops showing class 1Es under repair.    

93. Another workshop scene in Maritzburg showing 1E and ES locos receiving attention.  On closer inspection, you will see steam locomotive boilers further back in the Shop. The SAR had nine major workshops spread out over the Country with two smaller Depots at Mafeking and Usakos in what was then South West Africa.   

94. Ashley Peter, who sent me this photo of the body of class 2E No 135 from the Brian Couzens collection (now in the care of the RSSA KZN branch), commented: 
"The background to how this loco body ended up at Mayor’s Walk is a mystery!  I suspect that Brian was simply driving past when it caught his eye and he fortuitously happened to have his camera with him.  The photo immediately before this one (in his generally chronologically ordered collection) depicts a 14R heading a North Coast suburban train through Avoca, and the photos after this seem to show GCA’s hauling a timber train either on the Richmond or (more likely) Underberg line; successive pictures show NGG16’s between Donnybrook and Ixopo as well as GF’s and GMA’s in Donnybrook station. 

Clearly therefore Brian was not officially (or specifically) visiting the workshops, as there are no other photos of the workshop area in this part of his collection.  I am however almost certain that it is Mayor’s Walk as one can just make out mast poles of the New Main Line on the higher ground in the distance, as it wends its way up Town Hill near Rushbrook, beyond Pietermaritzburg station.  There also appears to be a non-electrified line in the middle distance which would either be the line to Victoria and Greytown – or a service line into one of the workshops.  The date would have been in the late 1960’s.  Pietermaritzburg was the dedicated workshop for 1E and ES locos for many years and, as you have speculated, this one may have been worked there after withdrawal so that its bogies and other components could be re-used as spares on those locos." 


95. A pair of 5E units, sans headboard, arriving in Maritzburg with 212-up, the Cape-bound Orange Express in overcast weather c 1956. Note the Day elliptical-roofed twin diner set.   

96. In 1935/6, the SAR had a curious home-made beast stationed in Maritzburg for working what was known as the Mason’s Mill shuttle.  It happened to be the first and only motor-coach operating under 3000V on the SAR at that time (the earlier Cape EMUs worked under 1500V catenary). This curious machine was numbered 9181 – classified as U-34-M. Apparently, the power bogies were recovered from an experimental “suction-gas” locomotive that had been tested earlier but not successful.  

97. This is what it looked like from the other side! As you can see, it was a curious-looking motor-coach with trailer, warranting another photo showing the left side of the set.    

98. My friend, the late Eddie Mecl visited Maritzburg c 1960 or perhaps earlier and photographed this GDA leaving for Greytown with a local passenger train on a dull and cloudy day.  Engine number not recorded.    

99. On 27 December 1960, I visited Maritzburg and took several photos in and around the Station.  This is the imposing station building as seen from the forecourt. Note the RMT bus getting ready to take passengers away to the various towns along the Greytown line, much quicker and more convenient than the passenger train which took seven hours for the 97-mile journey to Kranskop as opposed to four hours for the bus (over a shorter route but with many more stops it should be mentioned). The train service was withdrawn in 1961.    

100. A general view of the northern end of the station yard.  On the right, two 1Es No's 117 & 178 were waiting to couple-up to their load for the north.  Lots of Imperial Brown coaches dispersed in the yard as well as a class 1 tucked away in the background, which we shall see again in the following photos.   


101. The 1Es seen in the previous photo are shown here moving past the traditional signal cabin at the northern end of the yard which was soon be replaced by an all-electric cabin.   

102. Class 1A No 1269 was shunting a local passenger set in the yard. Note the “vreemdeling” (=stranger) in the local passenger set – the first coach behind the tender is an oldtimer from the Cape Government Railways – they made things to last in those days!    


103. In earlier times, Dave caught a class 17 on the shunt at Maritzburg.  While he did not record the date, we do know it was before October 1957 when Masons Mill's last two class 17s were transferred to Greyville. It is suggested this photo was made c 1956.    


104. Getting back to 27 December 1960, these three 1Es were heading a heavy goods train out of Maritzburg en route to the north.  The leading unit carrying the yellow “whisker stripes” which were just coming in at the time; her two sisters in traditional plain green livery.  Note the almost complete electric signal cabin that was due to replace the classic old signal box seen earlier; just above and behind the trailing unit.   

105. A quiet moment at the station – just a couple of mossies (=sparrows) busy building a nest under the roof canopy – not in the photo but making their presence felt with lots of chirping while mom was telling dad how to build the nest!  Closer study will reveal two 1Es with pantographs dropped, resting with a set of main line saloons at the far end of the platform.    

106. A curious photo by Dave Parsons:  A class 5E No 312 coupled to a class 1 and a goods train in Masons Mill yard, facing north.  Although Dave left no details, Ashley Peter has a feasible suggestion: "The Class 1 appears to be in light steam on transfer (with an attendant in situ) – possibly it had been sold or leased to a mine?"    

107. Like Eddie but on another day, I also caught a shot of GDA 2258 departing Pietermaritzburg for Greytown. The new signal cabin referred to earlier can be clearly seen to the right of the engine’s leading tank.  This was the last shot of the day for me and also my last photograph of a train that would be discontinued before 1961 was out (see photo 98)    

108. Four 1Es with a heavy coal-drag were photographed by the late Dave Parsons at the southern end of the station yard.  If you look closely – the first two units have post-War standard Metro-Vickers pantographs while the two trailing units still have their originals which were of a more complex construction.  Date not recorded but it is suggested that this was made on the same day as photo 95.    

109. Another goods train with three 1Es at the same spot but at last – sunshine!  

110. Class1E No152 taken at Pietermaritzburg station. The photo depicts the final shape of the 1Es with widened cabs and boiler-tube cowcatcher.  

Bruno tells us: "This unit was occasionally pressed into service to haul the Howick suburban service (from the late 1960s it usually had a Class 5E1 hauling a consist of 4 old suburban coaches). Its distinctive whining was hard to miss, but it never occurred to me to run up to Rushbrook halt (I lived nearby) to take a photo from the road over rail bridge. The late Bill Bizley and I often boarded the train to Howick for the highly scenic trip up Town Hill via Sweetwaters on the old NGR main line on a Saturday afternoon at 14:15; arr Howick at 15:19, went to the tearoom at the falls for tea and returned on the 16:48 service, arrived in Pmburg at 17:57. The service was discontinued in 1981". 

112. While the invited guests and other passengers on the Durban - Pietermaritzburg Centenary train listened to the rambling speeches and partook of the light refreshments provided at Alexandra Park, Brian along with a number of other railway enthusiasts, remained behind at the busy Pietermaritzburg station.  At one point he made his way out to the west end of the station where he recorded the departure of train No 0630, the 14:45 all-stops to Howick via Sweetwaters and Hilton on the Old Main Line, worked by Class 5E1 No E642. 

113. In the mid 1950s, when the Howick locals were still running, using the old (but not the original) NGR main line up Town Hill via Sweetwaters, Dave was on a slightly late-running 1165-down (07:00 off Howick), approaching Pietermaritzburg from the north. The main-line passenger is 522-up which left PMB at 08:20 and the signal is the advance starter for PMB.   

114. The final six photos of this chapter cover the special run by the Durban RSSA from Durban to Pietermaritzburg on 31 August 1969.  Here is the train after arrival at Maritzburg with 1A 1295, the entire scene making a fascinating comparison with photo 88 made some sixty years before. The late Brian Couzens and Geoff Gooderham played leading roles in organising this trip.  Note 1295’s safety valves blowing off vigorously after working the special single-handed all the way from Hillcrest.  In contrast with the NGR photo only one person is wearing a hat!    

115. The man in the cab of the NGR class 1 is none other than a son of the engine’s designer – D.A.Hendrie.  He must have been justifiably proud on this day when one of his father’s engines performed so admirably at more than 60 years of age.   

116.  Another view of 1295 in colour, after arrival at Maritzburg.  Again, the comparison with photo 88 is remarkable.  This trip was not without its problems but we still all had a great day celebrating a great CME and his engines!   

117.  For the return leg to Durban, we had 1A 1295 double-heading with class 1 No 1262. In preparation for the return trip the fireman on 1295 placed marker-lamps on the front buffer beam before removing the red tail-marker still in place from when the engines came up from Mason’s Mill Loco.  

118. This chapter finishes with one of the most important days in the annals of Pietermaritzburg: the ceremonious arrival of the first official train, conveying dignitaries from Durban as well as some from Pietermaritzburg who had traveled down to the coast to join in this momentous event.  Here is Edward Donald Campbell, author of the rather neglected but authoritative "The Birth and Development of the Natal Railways" [1]:

"The formal opening of the line to Pietermaritzburg took place on Wednesday, 1st December, 1880. A special train consisting of five carriages and a brake-van, all new stock, worked by Kitson engine No 12, Driver Harry Hayes [2], with Guards Frazer and De Broize in attendance, was run from Durban to Pietermaritzgurg on that date, and conveyed a party of invited guests, including His Worship the Mayor of Durban, Town Councillors, several prominent citizens and Government officials, in addition to Mr David Hunter and other railway officers.  The train left Durban at 07:54 am, four minutes late".

[1] Shuter and Shooter, Pietermaritzburg, 1951
[2] Later, Locomotive Superintendent at Ladysmith, and grandfather of Harry Hayes, chief engineer of the well-known tug "Sir William Hoy" in Durban Harbour (see Part 3). 

In the next chapter from my side, we will start exploring the branch lines out of Pietermaritzburg – first the Greytown line and then onto the other side of the city to Franklin, Kokstad, Underberg and Richmond, taking in Mason’s Mill loco as well.