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Northwards to just short of the home signal at Pretoria 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 authors. 

Before introducing this chapter I would like to record my gratitude to Peter Micenko for coming to the rescue with his material for two segments of the Western Transvaal System on which I had very little to offer the reader.  Thanks Peter – much appreciated!  Having said that it should be hastily added that Peter will still be contributing his photos and comments for the Natalspruit – Vereeniging chapters that will follow this one so we are not bidding him farewell just yet.

I also wish to say "Thanks Guys" to Peter Stow, Bruno Martin and Eugene Armer for providing additional images and captions for this segment of Soul of a Railway.  Their contributions not only filled gaps in my stills photo library, it has also enriched the chapter. 

I am also indebted to Peter Stow for providing the log of a special test trip of the Metroblitz from Pretoria and Johannesburg to Bloemfontein in record time!  Peter has also provided a very detailed report on the introduction and eventual demise of the "Sun City Express" as well as an enthralling account of a 15F coming to the rescue of the EMU on which he was travelling! 

Thanks Gents!"

1. The late Frank Garrison was active on the Reef in the 1930s recording railway scenes that would in time, become priceless! 

He tended to concentrate on the Germiston - Roodepoort section of the main line but also visited the Pretoria area on the odd occasion.  Frank indicated that he photographed this Pretoria - Johannesburg Up passenger near Elandsfontein in 1934.  The majestic Hendrie class 16C was No 819 with driver Blackburn at the regulator.  The train is on the original single main line between Elandsfontein and Driefontein (see Bruno's map immediately below and photo No 5). These trains were worked by Pretoria men from the old shed - a classic NZASM roundhouse situated opposite the main station that was inherited by the IMR, CSAR and finally the SAR.  This major depot was closed in 1943 when the new facility was opened at Capital Park.

We are now moving back to Germiston and setting off on the Pretoria Main Line stopping short of the home signals as the border of the Western Transvaal System in a northerly direction.  So in effect, having already covered Germiston itself, we will take a look at the images that were made between Knights and Fountains on the main line.

This line was electrified in 1937/8 thus coming into use just before WW2 which was useful in the sense that a substantial number of steam locomotives were released for duty elsewhere on the SAR during the difficult times of the War.

The electrification coincided with the deviation of the Germiston – Elandsfontein section of the Pretoria main line.  The old line left Germiston in an easterly direction and to the north of and just near the Steam Loco Depot, it turned north and travelled through Primrose with a manned station at Driefontein before curving to the right and running easterly again until finally turning left to regain its northerly course at Elandsfontein which was previously known as Rietfontein. This old line then continued north passing Zuurfontein which became Kempton Park in later years.  This was a single line as was the whole of this section except for a long double-track section in the vicinity of Oakmoor between Kaalfontein and Olifantsfontein which allowed the famous CSAR Limited Expresses to pass each other at speed without any slowing-down or waiting being required.  Needless to say those CSAR expresses ran like clockwork and passed each other on the fly!

The new deviation opened in 1938 ran past the loco depot on its southern side and sliced its way through mine slimes dams and dumps turning northwards through a new station known as Knights and then continued north to Elandsfontein.  This deviation resulted in old Driefontein station being abandoned. 

When I travelled on this section extensively in the 1950s, one could still visually pick up several sections of the old single main line especially in the vicinity of Birchleigh, Kaalfontein, Pinedene and of course near Fountains where there was an infamous horseshoe curve that took the line pretty close to the present-day Voortrekker Monument.

I was too young to know the old main line in operation with steam but my late friend Frank Garrison assured me that the SAR maintained the earlier CSAR tradition of fast running with the Johannesburg – Pretoria Expresses that also passed each other on the fly near Oakmoor.  The Oakmoor referred to should not be confused with the present day halt of the same name. The old Oakmoor was actually further north towards Olifantsfontein. 

The CSAR Limited Expresses were worked by classes 10, 10B and 6 with Belpaire fireboxes while the SAR used classes 16, 16B and 16C on those illustrious services.

Frank photographed the steam-hauled Expresses in the 1930s and his photo in System 7, Part 4 – photo number 4 typically shows a Pretoria – Johannesburg Express with a class 16C in charge.  Great days of express steam trains in South Africa!

In 1938, the glory of steam expresses came to an end!  They were replaced by 2M1 motor-coach EMU sets but the expresses remained as “electric sets P1 and P2” which up until 1953 continued to offer a buffet car service. On my frequent trips on the Johannesburg – Pretoria Expresses, I can still recall a steward coming through the train with a silver service tray offering coffee or tea and packaged slices of Madeira cake – plain or with fruit.  Unfortunately, the public didn’t support the buffet car and this delightful service was discontinued.

Travelling on P1 or P2 was quite a thrilling experience because even back in the 1950s, 60mph was allowed on the section from Knights to Fountains with a few speed restrictions for curvature at Kempton Park and Olifantsfontein.  This was the only section on the entire SAR that permitted a top speed of 60mph.  There were long stretches of track where the main road ran parallel to the railway line and it was quite exhilarating to pass cars at speed!

There was another brief but very interesting interlude with P1 and P2.  In 1948 shortly after the class 3E locos were placed in service, it was decided to use them on these expresses. A photo follows which shows the actual working with a 3E heading a Pretoria Express.  The 3E was geared to allow for a maximum speed of 65mph and this was apparently used to good effect by the drivers handling the trains.  Then apparently an over-zealous driver set back onto the P1 set in old Johannesburg station and caused quite a nasty jolt through the stationary set of coaches.  Complaints were received in the System Manager’s office and Operating was told – use the 2M1 motor coaches – not the 3E locos!  So the brief interlude ended almost as quickly as it had started.

Getting back to the line itself, the double line section was eventually quadrupled between Knights and Kaalfontein in 1964 which was to prove to be a future blessing (as a spin-off) for the running of the Metroblitz high-speed service on a line that still had to accommodate trains travelling more sedately.

This brings me to the Metroblitz saga which is directly associated with the main line under review in this chapter.

I’ve already mentioned how this line was the only section in South Africa to officially permit 60mph top speed running and history would repeat itself in due course with the introduction of the Metroblitz in January 1984. But even before Metroblitz appeared on the scene, there was another train known as the Jacaranda Express which was timed at speeds of 125km/h by the Rev.Charles Parry – nearly 78mph on the main line!  So this line can really lay claim to being the SAR’s fastest stretch of main line. 

Dr Herbert Scheffel had been experimenting with self-steering bogies which not only reduced flange wear on goods wagons but also opened up the possibility of running at high speed in passenger service on the 3ft 6in gauge.  Initially, high speed tests involving a specially re-geared 6E1 were carried out and speeds of 245km/h were recorded!  I remember joining the SAR’s Chief Photographer, Johan Etsebeth on a trip out to Westonaria in October 1978 where we actually witnessed and photographed the test 6E1 with a specially-adapted suburban coach travelling at 245km/h.  It was an incredible sight to see a train travelling at that kind of speed on 3ft6in gauge! 

On the strength of those successful tests, the Metroblitz express service was inaugurated between Pretoria and Johannesburg on 11th January 1984.  The train took 43 minutes to get to Johannesburg – one minute late due to a signal check!  The booked time was indeed 42 minutes via Germiston and having to share a main line with other traffic – no dedicated line like that enjoyed by Gautrain today!  Speeds varied on the route but 160km/h was standard in the vicinity of Birchleigh.  Two class 12E locomotives with a rake of specially-built coaches were used on the express service.

The fact that Metroblitz had to share the line with other traffic was to prove its own undoing and after approximately 12 months in service, it was discontinued NOT due to its own ineffectiveness but due to the disruption that it caused the other trains on the line with them having to make way for the express. 

So the Germiston – Pretoria main line has always been associated with higher-speed running by express passenger trains going back to the CSAR days when the steam-hauled “Limited Express” with luxurious chocolate and cream liveried corridor stock with dining and parlour cars covered the section in just 75 minutes which included a one minute stop at Germiston and another stop at Jeppe!

As a last word on Metroblitz: in early January 1984, on a test trip from Pretoria to Bloemfontein, it covered the distance of 407km in just 3hrs 45 minutes (see Peter Stow's log, below).

Although the line had been electrified back in 1938, there was still a measure of steam traction to be seen on the route. The yards at Elandsfontein and Olifantsfontein were still shunted by steam and the private sidings off Elandsfontein Yard were also worked by steam.  In addition, there were regular steam turns between Germiston, Angelo and Olifantsfontein working goods traffic over that section of the line.

As for electric traction on the extended main line, classes 1E, 2E, 3E, 5E and 5E1 were all to be seen at different times as the years passed by.  Type 2M1 motor coaches predominated on the passenger side but type 2M2 were also used mainly on the 3rd class services.  The 2M2 1st class motor coaches which originally had tables fitted in the non-side-door bays were concentrated on the Springs – Randfontein services.  

During the period under review, Kempton Park was provided with a new station and re-alignment which reduced the severity of the curve at the south end of the station.  This aspect will be covered at length in the photos that follow.

Another interesting aspect of this main line was the testing of a new “switch-joint” in the 1950s on the section between Irene and Lyttleton – later known as Verwoerdburg.  Two long sections of welded track were linked in the middle by the switch-joint which eliminated the need for regular butt-ends with fishplates.  The two rail sections were cut at a shallow angle which allowed for a slow transition from one rail to the next one.  Charlie might care to expand on this for our benefit – Charlie?

When I was regularly travelling on this line in the 1950s, the minor halts of Sportpark (near Vervoerdburg) and Oakmoor (near Kaalfontein) didn’t exist.  The original Oakmoor referred to earlier, had long since disappeared with realignments in SAR days.  Sentrarand Yard with all its connecting lines to various areas also didn’t exist in the 1950s – all of that came later.

The track-welding facility at Elandsfontein was in full production converting 3x 40ft rails into 120ft lengths which had been adopted as the standard length for main lines until track welding resulted in much longer lengths coming into service all over the Country.

2. The opening photo of this chapter is very interesting – in my introduction I referred to a brief period in 1948 when class 3E locos were assigned to work the P1 & P2 buffet express sets between Johannesburg and Pretoria.  Fortunately, an SAR departmental photographer was sent out to photograph one of these trains.  He did a fine job taking this shot near Olifantsfontein. The clerestory roof line clearly identifies the A-18-T buffet car in the consist.  Three A-18 singles were wired for multiple-unit working and brought into use on these trains. They were named LUKOSI, MATESI and KATUNA – No's 192,193 and 194 respectively. 

3. During the 1950s, Dave Parsons was just north of old Kempton Park station and he photographed a 2M1 EMU set heading down-grade towards Birchleigh and Pretoria. To the right of the EMU up on the embankment we find the Germiston Breakdown Train and in that consist, the tall flat-sided van slightly obscured by the leading motor coach of the EMU, which had started out life as a special mail van for the pre-War Union Limited Express. On extreme right also on the embankment you might notice a group of men from the breakdown gang taking a lunch-break from whatever they were doing there.

4.  I regularly rode the Johannesburg – Pretoria buffet expresses in the 1950s and travelling on the return leg one had the opportunity to take a seat in the leading 1st class motor coach right behind the driver.  These sets ran with three 2M1 motor coaches and they gave one a thrilling ride, often building up to 60mph the official speed limit. This photograph shows just how close one could get to the front of the train.  The curve in the photo is between Lyttelton (later named Verwoerdburg and still later, Centurion) and Irene and this curve was to be used to test a so-called “switch-joint” in the track.  The switch-joint was placed on test to ascertain the possibility of reducing the stresses caused by expansion and contraction of continuously welded rail.  At that time it was thought that 220 yards was about the limit.  This was later increased to 440 yards and then, with the introduction of concrete sleepers, rails were welded into continuous lengths between stations as the weight of the sleepers was found sufficient to hold the rails in position no matter how extreme the ambient temperature changes. 

5. In the 1960s, I did a lot of photography with Frank Garrison and one Saturday afternoon we decided to go and look for the old Driefontein station on the original line between Germiston and Elandsfontein.  We knew it was in the vicinity of the old East Rand main road between Germiston and Boksburg.  After some hunting we found it!  It was pretty well hidden by trees and other foliage but there it was – the platforms still there but heavily overgrown.  The ghosts of CSAR and Hendrie Pacifics at speed with the expresses still seemed to haunt the place! 

6. In 1955 the Administration built a link line between Angelo and Knights to facilitate the movement of goods traffic between that Yard and the Pretoria Main Line and eliminating the need for trains to go via Germiston.  On 7th of August 1960, 3E no.195 with a load of coal is waiting for the “sticks” before coming on to Knights station and heading north.   

7. On the same day we moved north to the old Kempton Park station and there, a new class 32.052 came through running light back to Germiston. The Diesel Depot in Germiston was home-shed to a fair number of class 32 diesels in those early years of diesel traction. If you look beyond the station name board you will see the earthworks under way for a new re-aligned main line which was to be a part of a bigger plan to provide Kempton Park with a new station. 

8. Moving further north to Pinedene we caught this 5E no.549 working a goods train to Pretoria. 

9. Just south of Pinedene at the Home signal, a 5M EMU set came down-grade at speed!  This was the latest form of “P1” the Pretoria Express but the buffet car was long gone. 

10. Sniffing around in the Pinedene area Frank and I photographed this beautiful old Imperial Military Railway bridge dating back to 1901 which was built when the IMR re-aligned this part of the original NZASM line.  So even back in pre-SAR days, the lines were re-aligned usually to ease curvature and/or gradient.  There was no sign of the original NZASM line nearby – nature had reclaimed its domain! 

11. Earlier in the day at old Kempton Park, we had seen 5E No 549 come through with a goods train heading north – it was the same train that we photographed later at Pinedene.  See photo 7. 

12. Here is an unrestricted view of the vicious curve immediately south of the old Kempton Park station.  I remember always bracing myself on the Pretoria – Johannesburg express as we invariably hit this curve at speed!  The 2M1 leading motor coach would react quite suddenly to the change of direction as her leading bogie hit the curve.  Even electric trains can provide excitement – I can personally testify to that! 

13. Back on the platform at Pinedene, 5E no.300 in plain green livery rolls down grade with a goods train heading for Pretoria. At that time, single unit working was fairly common on goods train duties. 

14. On 30th of March 1963 – 51 years ago as I write this – I was back at old Kempton Park to witness the final day of working through the old station.  In this photo an EMU heading for Tembisa was approaching the platform having come down-grade from Elandsfontein. 

15.  Here is a shot of the old station on its last day of service and to add to the interest of the photo – a class 23 was seen running light heading south presumably to Germiston.  A class 23????  Where had she come from and where was she going to?  We never solved that little mystery! 

16. Another interesting packet to pass through the old station on its last day was this 2M2 parcels train heading for Pretoria.  These parcels trains were at one time a common sight on the Reef between Springs and Randfontein as well as on the Pretoria line.  Another SAR service that eventually bit the dust! 

17. A push-pull electric shuttle service was operated between Germiston and Kempton Park.  Here is a 5M set with an older wooden-bodied side-door driving trailer painted in the “Smoke Grey” livery of the steel 5M sets when they (the 5Ms) were imported from the UK.  In my opinion, the Smoke Grey livery looked awful on side-door stock – the Imperial brown was much smarter! 

18. On 30th March 1963 the time to switch off the overhead current to allow the track gangs to disconnect the old station and connect to the new trackwork was imminent.  In this regard, a bunch of diesels was sent to Kempton Park in readiness to take over the haulage over the dead section.  Here, a class 32.110 and a pair of 31s are ready to do their thing.      
19. The very last train I saw using the old station was this 2M2 EMU heading north to Tembisa – a black township near Kaalfontein. That was it – the old station was about to close! 

20.  On the way home from old Kempton Park on the 30th, I stopped in at Elandsfontein and caught this unusual scene.  A 5M EMU set being hauled dead by 5E no.363!  This was a puzzle indeed – did the EMU fail?  I can’t think of any other reason for an electric train to be hauled by an electric unit!  The catenary was obviously live!  Even the 5E’s livery – the original plain green was something of a surprise at this time when the livery had changed a couple of years earlier.  This 5E had even escaped the addition of the yellow body striping which was applied to green-liveried locos much earlier.  Liveries don’t change overnight but this was more than a little surprising! 

21.  The next day I had to get back to Kempton Park to see the new layout in operation – the tracks had been cut from the old alignment and connected to the new arrangement overnight!  That is how efficient the old SAR was! To switch to the new catenary would take a little longer so the diesels were retained to continue working over what was still a Dead Section Order.  My first photo of the new alignment in operation was of a pair of class 31s working a dead 5E and its goods train over the dead section.  The fresh new ballast still had to be tidied up – plenty work for the ploegbaas and his gang!

22. The pair of 31s came back with a pair of 1Es and a goods train heading for Elandsfontein Yard. Note one of the smart new platforms at the new station. 

23. Moving away from Kempton Park northwards towards Van Riebeeckpark, a pair of class 32 diesels came by with a dead 5M set heading north. The leading diesel was 32.110.  This shot brought the photo record of the change-over to a satisfactory conclusion. 

24. The following year, in May 1964, I photographed another Dead Section Order on this line.  This time it was in operation between Olifantsfontein and Kaalfontein.  In the photo, two class 31s are working a 5M EMU set over the dead section.  Here again we had a case of older liveries surviving well into a period where a new colour-scheme had been adopted.  I’m referring to the two class 31s still in their original blue livery as delivered back in 1958. 

25. At the same spot on the same day two 15Fs hammered past my camera with a dead pair of 1Es and a lengthy goods train.  The stack-talk was great! 

26. On 4th June 1968 I popped into the Steam Depot at Germiston where one of my friends told me that I should go out to Elandsfontein Yard if I wanted to see something strange!  I said – what is it?  He replied – go and have a look!  I got into my car and drove out to the Yard and it didn’t take long to spot the strange beast! It was a 12R 1507 fitted with a MY1 tender normally attached to a class S2 no.3710! Engine 1507’s tender had required lengthy repairs and the MY1 was standing spare at the same time. 

27. Having photographed 1507 I got a shot of three 1Es – nos.162,153 & 184 with their characteristic gears whining away beautifully as they pulled out of the Yard taking a long goods load with them, probably to Angelo.  1507 was sitting quietly on the right as these electric veterans departed. 

28. Coming forward to February 1990, S A Transport Services had earlier decided that it wanted a new corporate identity in the form of a new coach livery for its EMU sets.  To this end, several test liveries were tried on coaches in the same set.  Acting on a tip-off, I got myself out to Olifantsfontein and photographed this mixed set as it sped by.  

29. As the set passed my camera, I took successive photos of the new test liveries.  Here is a livery where the grey is dominant over the yellow. A reversal of the dominant colour to yellow would prove to be the new livery adopted. 

30.    Another test colour – this light colour would certainly not stay smart for too long – I’m not surprised that it wasn’t adopted! SATS engineer Peter Stow comments as follows: "When we were looking at new liveries for main line and suburban trains for corporatisation of the old SATS in 1990, during 1988 consultants came with proposals and for suburban coaches that is seen in the first shot- the red, white and blue. For main line coaches it was a similar scheme but the red was replaced by predominately orange, with a blue stripe through a white/light grey area below the window line. You will recall that the THF class 5E1 model was used to illustrate the scheme for the locomotives. At this same time the consultants also suggested something with grey and yellow diagonal stripes for Metro coaches and given that the consultant had a Dutch background, it was no coincidence that it looked similar to what was in Holland at the time. So three coaches were painted with a dark grey and yellow scheme and you have captured them in your second photograph. At the same time my office suggested a simpler, less expensive, scheme with a lighter grey and only the doors painted yellow and a coach was painted as such.  I arranged that all these test coaches be put on one set (I think it was P6) for ease of viewing and control. In the end none of the suburban schemes were adopted and the final product was a variation of the dark grey and yellow with a much lighter, thinner grey band and consequently more yellow." 

31. In March 1990, the Transnet Heritage Foundation ran several special trains to commemorate historical events associated with NZASM – the original Transvaal Republican railway company.  One of these trips involved the use of the famous old Kitson locomotive which is seen here near Van Riebeeckpark north of Kempton Park.
Kitson was placed in service in 1879 by the Natal Government Railways and later after Union in 1910, was absorbed into the SAR roster. However, soon after Union she was sold to VFP - The Victoria Falls & Transvaal Power Co which later became the Electricity Supply Commission.  The old girl worked for ESCOM at their power stations and eventually at their Rosherville workshops where she continued to work under the care of David Parsons (Loco Foreman) until she became the oldest working locomotive in South Africa - still at work one hundred years later!  She was declared a National Monument and was initially earmarked to join the SA Railway Museum's National Collection in the 1970s.  Unfortunately, due to unforeseen problems with the National Collection which developed later, she was given a home in the private SANRASM Collection.  SANRASM also ran into problems and her current fate is unknown to me. 

32. On 28th April 1990, class 25NC 3476 worked the Blue Train from Johannesburg to Pretoria.  On her return trip she was given a load of empty saloons to work back to Braamfontein.  Here she is leaning into the curve at Olifantsfontein. 

33. On 5th May she again worked the Blue Train to Pretoria from Johannesburg.  I was on hand at Olifantsfontein to photograph her as she came through the station quite sedately, I might add.  This was due to the curved approach to Olifantsfontein from both ends. 

34. 3476 looked rather splendid at the head of the Blue Train going away from the camera.

35. In 1986 two type A-31/AA-32 dining cars were mounted on plinths of track at the Esselen Park Railway College at Kaalfontein for steward training purposes.  Roger Perry called in to photograph them – the twin car on the left in 1947 Pilot Train livery of chocolate and cream nos.244/298 KAAIMAN and on the right, the second set in old Blue Train livery Nos.245/300 KOMATI.  When Roger took this photo, the cars paintwork had already deteriorated to some extent. 

36. Peter Stow reports:    
"SAR had an intricate system of through main line coach workings to obviate the need for passengers travelling long distances to change trains with the resultant inconvenience, especially with respect to luggage handling and the changing of trains late at night or in the early hours of the morning. This system did not come without a cost as many stations had shunt locomotives on hand to handle the shunting of these coaches. Germiston also had a station pilot to handle such shunting movements, which were handled with the utmost efficiency. Most through coaches to and from Pretoria and Germiston and Johannesburg were attached to the rear of suburban trains and for this reason the P electric sets had four motor coaches per 12 coach set. The maximum allowed was 3 main line coaches added to any P set and this maximum was achieved daily with through coaches off the Trans Natal and Trans Karoo.

Typically on trains from the south and east the through coaches to Pretoria would be positioned just before the dining car. After the train had stopped at Germiston the shunter would uncouple the train just before the dining car and after an announcement for passengers to please stand clear of the platform for a shunting movement, the front portion of the train would pull forward and once clear of the points, push back to place the coaches for Pretoria in the bay platform. Once done the front portion would then move forward again and once clear of the points, reverse back on to the train for a departure to Johannesburg.

The shunt locomotive, which would have stood clear of this movement,  would then back onto the Pretoria coaches, pull them forward clear of the points ready for the arrival of the suburban set on the adjacent platform. Once the suburban set had stopped, the locomotive would gently push the coaches back onto the set and once coupled, the set would depart.

I recall travelling in these through coaches from Germiston to Pretoria and getting off at Irene. The 12 coach suburban set just fitted into the platform, with just the first step of the main line coach coupled to the last motor coach making the platform as well. When the ticket examiner boarded the through coaches at Germiston to check tickets it was wise to warn him that you were getting off at Irene, especially with the family, as this could take a few seconds with all the luggage. So as the train approached Irene the luggage was carried to the leading vestibule and the family stood ready for a quick disembarking. As the train stopped, I would position myself with one foot on the platform, one on the coach step and hastily unload luggage, keeping a wary eye on the guard and ticket examiners to make sure they had seen me and even raising both arms to show we were still busy. Finally when all the luggage was off and the family on the platform I would give a wave that we were done and the train would depart.

The importance of this service, even when on the rare occasions when its clockwork operation was interrupted, is illustrated by my own experience on a trip in the late 1970s: 

As an Irene resident who often travelled to Durban on business or for pleasure one had the choice of either going to Pretoria to catch train 0660 which ran non-stop to Germiston or catch a local all stations train at Irene and go direct through to Germiston. On one of the latter trips, we arrived at Isando and there was a total power failure. We were standing in the station, on the down slow line, when a 15F (I seem to recall it was 3046) from the Olifantsfontein shunt arrived on the adjacent platform. I spoke to our ticket examiner pointing out that we had a connection with the Drakensburg at Germiston and what were the chances of the “F” taking us further, not really thinking that anything would come of my request. After a few phone calls the “F” pulled forward and then to our amazement backed onto our train. He immediately got signals, the route indicating a movement crossing over toward Isando and Elandsfontein yard. To say that the “F” blasted away from Isando would be an understatement. Even the jets taking off from the adjacent Jan Smuts Airport seemed to pale in comparison and that was something, remembering that in those days they were still first generation jets.  Hauling 8 trailer coaches and 4 motor coaches each resisting forward movement by generating a back emf, the locomotive sound was unbelievable. With the surefootedness that only an “F” with full regulator could exhibit, I cannot recall that she slipped once. As we weaved our way through the goods yard, avoiding all the other motor coach sets stranded on the main line, I don’t think there was anybody in the yard who did not come out of every office, hut or crevice to see what the commotion was all about. One could also see the bewilderment and envy of the passengers in the trains still standing, wondering why we had got preferential treatment. Fortunately when we re-joined the main line there were no trains in front of us and we arrived in Germiston with time to spare to make our connection. What a trip and what quick thinking on the part of Operating to get us through in time.

As we walked past the locomotive simmering in the evening light at Germiston there was no evidence of what we had just experienced. The crew gave me a nonchalant nod as I gave a “thumbs up”, seeming to say “it is all in a day’s work”. Yes, those were the days.

There was one scheduled exception to the arrangement of adding coaches to suburban sets and that was train 0660 departing from Pretoria at 17h45 which carried a suburban coach for staff, in this case a type U-35-C, a parcels van, a first and a second class coach for Three Threes to Bloemfontein, then a first, a first all coupe and a second for the Trans Natal to Durban. The train is seen here between Irene and Pinedene and could only be photographed in the summer months."

37. In this view the through coaches are those off train 57028, the 20h30 from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg, here about to cross the Hennops River just south of Irene in late 1980 as they head north to Pretoria, having been shunted off at Germiston. These coaches were subject to accelerations and decelerations behind the EMU sets that they did not experience behind locomotives and it was completely different riding in a main line coach at the back of an EMU set.

38. Part of the Blue Train locomotive link was to work train 0660 from Pretoria to Germiston on the day the Blue Train arrived in Pretoria. Here we see train 0660 approaching the level crossing just north of Pinedene station behind class 6E1 1756 and sister in the Blue Train livery. By this time the suburban coach had been dropped. This level crossing was eliminated prior to the introduction of the Metroblitz and traffic was diverted under the Hennops River bridge to the south of Pinedene station.

39. Super power! A non-scheduled exception to through coaches being used on suburban sets also occurred when special trains were run from Johannesburg to Durban and bookings were accepted for passengers from Pretoria. Here a 6E1 hurries a type FP parcels van, a type C-36 first class and an E-2 second class coach southbound between Irene and Pinedene to make the connection at Germiston with some nasty weather lying ahead. It was of interest that the maximum passenger load for a class 6E1 from Pretoria to Johannesburg was 18 coaches up the 1:66 grade but at a time when the Diamond Express ran from Kimberley (and later Bloemfontein) to Pretoria the same locomotives worked the Trans Karoo from Pretoria to Johannesburg. Sometimes the Diamond Express only arrived with one locomotive and the Trans Karoo has been photographed with 21 coaches behind a single 6E1.

40. Peter Stow writes: 

"I arrived in Pretoria in October, 1978 to take up a new appointment. I initially stayed at the college at Esselen Park until I could get accommodation elsewhere. By this time all trains in the area were of the 5M type and only 3 relief sets for the Tembisa line were of the 2M type. If I recall correctly, these sets were parked at Kaalfontein for immediate use should the need arise. One evening as I arrived at Kaalfontein from Pretoria I noticed a 2M set leaving for Tembisa. I rushed home to fetch my camera and managed to get this shot on its return trip. The leading motor coach is 9227, one of 31 of the type placed in service in 1937 for the Reef electrification. A further batch of 6 were placed in service in 1939. The set is numbered N RELIEF 3. This was the only day in the 6 months that I stayed at Esselen Park that I saw a 2M set in operation." (By the looks of it the train was running ahead of a typical highveld thunderstorm)

41. As more and more type 5M2A electric motor coach sets were placed into service the type 2M motors and trailers became redundant. The trailers were put to good use at peak times and were either coupled to power cars (as this picture illustrates) or coupled to main line 110V coaches, the ratio being two trailers for each main line coach. This train is a special southbound from Pietersburg crossing the Hennops River (Kaalspruit on the road bridge) just south of Irene in late 1980 and the first vehicle is a parcels van in which a diesel generator has been installed to provide power for the lights. These generator wagons were also painted in passenger train colours.

42. The Highveld is known for its violent thunderstorms. Here a special morning train from Pietersburg comprising a timber bodied main line coach of type E-13 and 2M trailers behind 6E1 1957 catches a ray of afternoon sunshine in an otherwise overcast, threatening sky as it hastens south from Olifantsfontein toward Johannesburg at the end of the school and builders holidays in January, 1981.  

43. The Jacaranda Express ran between Pretoria and Johannesburg and is seen here on the return leg northbound passing the Verwoerdburg (previously Lyttleton and now Centurion) home signals. Note the vertical name board just ahead of the driver’s side door.

44. In 1983 the days of the Jacaranda were numbered. It is seen here leaving Verwoerdburg station, passing coaches of the Metroblitz which would ultimately replace it.

45. Bruno Martin kindly provided the caption to his lovely photograph of Metroblitz.  He comments as follows: 

"Rail transport in South Africa entered a new era on Monday 16 January 1984 with the inauguration of the charcoal, red and yellow liveried METROBLITZ, the fast intercity service between Pretoria and Johannesburg that was timed to cover the 69.5 km distance in 42 minutes. To have a ride on this special train I travelled from Pietermaritzburg on Sunday night’s Drakensberg to arrive just after 7:30 in Johannesburg where I spent the day at the SATS Reference Library. At around 16:30 I made my way to the station to join the Metroblitz on its inaugural return journey to Pretoria – I still have Reservation Card No.000049 for passasierswa/coach 5, costing R2-50, as a memento of that day."

"Departure from Johannesburg was at 17:10 and arrival in Pretoria, after some slow running into the station, was at 17:54. I noted the interior of the air-conditioned coach was fitted with very comfortable aircraft-style seats in a chequered red and grey (charcoal) material, the floor covered with plush red carpeting and tinted glass in the oblong-shaped windows. On sections of the line between Knights and Kloofsig the train driver announced over the PA system that the train was travelling at 160km/h which was smooth and quiet with very little jolting.
This photo of the Metroblitz racing back to Pretoria was taken from the overhead footbridge at Verwoerdburg ( Lyttelton) station on Wednesday 18 January 1984."

46. Following its test trip to Bloemfontein the Metroblitz returned to Johannesburg the following day. Here she is seen passing Longend halt, just north of Bloemfontein, at speed. We are indebted to Peter Stow for a first-hand account of this record run:


By Peter A. Stow

"In early January, 1984, prior to the introduction of the scheduled Metroblitz service between Pretoria and Johannesburg on 16 January, 1984, a test Metroblitz train was run from Pretoria to Johannesburg and then from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein to evaluate the potential and impact of longer distance high speed train services in South Africa.

The preparation for this test train was comprehensive and probably the most significant safety measure was the manning and closing of every road and farm crossing between Johannesburg and Bloemfontein some 10-15 minutes before the expected passing of the train. As the train departed later than scheduled this meant that the crossings were closed for a significantly longer period than planned.

I boarded the train in Pretoria, along with the staff from the Chief Mechanical Engineer’s office. I was able to combine my trip with an official visit to the Bloemfontein Mechanical workshops the following day, which also enabled me to get a departing shop from Bloemfontein through Longend halt on the return trip. There was an unbelievable air of excitement as the train departed and gathered speed in its rush to get to Johannesburg, where staff from the General Manager’s office, Chief Electrical Engineer’s office, Chief Civil Engineer’s office and the Regional office would join the train. A number of big names in the railway fraternity at the time were on that train.

Conversation in the train as it hurtled down to Bloemfontein centred on how this was the way forward, with high speed trains criss-crossing the country. The pilot project on the Pretoria to Johannesburg line would be the starting point, proving that scheduled high speed services were possible on 3’6” (1067mm) gauge track.

Of course there were differences of opinion as to how this would be rolled out but the general consensus was that this was the way to go. Staff from Passenger Services were particularly excited as this could open up all sorts of opportunities for them.

Turnout along the route to Bloemfontein was tremendous. Word had spread regarding the test train so farmers, workers, railway employees and the general public turned out in their numbers to witness this historic event.

One can only imagine how the local train drivers with road knowledge who were used as pilots must have felt as the special high speed driver attached to the CME’s Test and Design Department the late Mr. Neels Engelbrecht drove the train fearlessly at 150-160km/hr on track that they themselves had only run at speeds of about 90km/hr.

There were one or two moments when slight track irregularities gave the passengers a bit of a jolt and possibly even a scare and one could only imagine what it must have felt like on the locomotive. One particular spot I recall because of its significance was at a point passing the hill on the Bloemfontein side of Karee where years earlier many a steam locomotive had been photographed northbound pounding up the grade.

The run to Bloemfontein was a tremendous success as can be seen from the log below. What then went wrong that this potential was not developed?

The fact that the running of high speed passenger trains would require significant infrastructure expenditure was clearly one of them, especially to eliminate or safeguard level crossings and upgrade the track. The other was the difficulty in scheduling slower trains on the same network so as to avoid capacity restrictions was clearly another. Perhaps the final nail in the coffin were the dwindling long distance passenger numbers in favour of air, bus and the minibus taxi which started to make significant inroads into rails traditional market segments. There were even conspiracy theories that the trains were viewed as “toys” of the Mechanical Department and that the Mechanical Department needed to be reined in.

Whatever the reason, the introduction of high speed passenger trains was not pursued and 30 years later it may even take you longer to reach your destination than it did then.

Post Script

I am not one to time trains normally and in my search through some of the many documents I have collected over the years for my file on the Metroblitz I came across a log I had made of this run to Bloemfontein. I had actually forgotten I had made this log (it was 30 years ago) - it was a one in a million chance that I found it when I was looking for something else."
















Wrong line working










Xover to right line












































30,839(from VRR)










30,517(from KDR)
















160 km/h





150 km/h up 1:100










Red signal





Through the loop


























Van Tonder










Total Distance from JHB




47. The Metroblitz is heading south to Johannesburg as it approaches Sportpark station. The photograph was taken from the approaches to the bridge that used to cross the line to the north of the station. This has since been demolished and replaced by a new bridge crossing the line to the south of Sportpark station.

48. Summer was the best time to photograph the early morning departure of the Metroblitz from Pretoria station. The driver would ease the train out of the station over the points and crossovers but once the tail end of the train was clear it was all systems go to get up to the maximum speed of 160km/hr.

49. On Thursday 6 October 1988 a test run was made to Sun City and Heystekrand in preparation for the planned service to Sun City. Here 37-044 leads a type GD-2 first and second composite guard and baggage van, 5 type L-44 first class steel side door coaches, 2 Transit coaches converted from lounge cars, a double diner, an ex-Drakensburg lounge, 2 type E-16 main line sleeper coaches and another GD-2 at the rear, past the quarry between Irene and Verwoerdburg. In practice the train did not run with a GD-2 in the front and was done in this case to obviate shunting the van around at Heystekrand and to simulate the effect that passengers have would have had on the tonnage.

Here follows a fascinating account of the introduction of the “SUN CITY EXPRESS” by Peter A. Stow

"My involvement in the Sun City Express started quite early in the project and although not in on the initial discussions, the first correspondence I received was the letter I refer to below.

On 7 October, 1988, Ernie Joubert, Group Marketing Director of Sun International, advised Charles Wright, Deputy Director, Rail Passenger Services, South African Transport Services that the Sun City train project had been approved by senior management of both the Sun International Group and Sun City.

There then followed confirmation of various aspects on the current status of the project, too numerous to mention here, but a few are highlighted.

The train was to be branded “Sun City Express” and painted in maroon and golden yellow as per the design which was to be submitted by 12 October. The launch date was planned for Saturday November 26. The first journey for the general public was planned for December 1 with an almost daily service thereafter. Departure time from Johannesburg station was to be 08h00, 09h00 from Pretoria with arrival at Sun City station at 12h00. Return departure would be 23h00 Mondays to Thursdays excluding public holidays, 24h00 on Saturdays, Public Holidays and Sundays followed by a public holiday and 21h00 on Sundays followed by a normal Monday.

Then followed the proposed make-up of the train and Passenger Services would investigate the possibility of a sound system throughout the train to allow a P.A. system and music to be played during the journey. Investigation was also required into the technical feasibility and cost of installing air conditioning throughout the train.

A station was to be built where the railway line crosses the Sun City/Thabazimbi road between Paul siding and Heystekrand and that preparations would immediately start on working drawings for the station which were urgently needed by Sun Internationals Development Department to prepare road, bus parking and bus turning areas at the station.

The possibility was to be investigated of changing the current speed regulations which would allow the train to run at maximum possible speed throughout the journey.

SATS was to endeavour to put together a train with a uniform exterior appearance e.g. steel body only, round roof profile only.

There then followed issues of staffing and meals required and the costing thereof.

Of interest was the fact that Sun International would have umbrellas in the luggage van at all times in case of rain during embarkation and disembarkation and that SATS would equip all doors with a safety lock device to prevent children opening the door whilst the train was moving.

On 27th October, 1988 the Chief Director (Passenger Services) announced the composition of the train. This is given in the second column in the table below and consisted of five 1st class side door suburban coaches, a lounge car, a Kitchen car, a dining car, two transit coaches (which were ex-lounge cars converted to luxury sitter coaches), two 2nd class steel sleeper coaches and a staff and baggage van.

I tried to get suburban coaches allocated to the train in number order and despite allocation exchanges of vehicles between Pretoria and Johannesburg was only partially successful as can be seen in the third column.

From photographs and for those who know coach types, the train compilation did not meet the requirement for a uniform roof profile.

At the same time as the coaches were being prepared and painted, diesel electric locomotive class 37 number 37-044 was painted in a special livery for the train. The coaches were numbered on the outside from 1 to 13."

Coach Number

Proposed Composition

Actual Composition


Rubber Diaphragms fitted

Composition blocks fitted








































Already fitted


















Already fitted






Already fitted



















"The deadlines mentioned above were unrealistic as the train needed to be painted and certain coaches upgraded. In this regard Dorothy van’t Riet was involved in the interior design for, amongst others, the upgrade of lounge car 804 and Mr. Kees Schilperoort from Pentagraph, who was also involved in the new corporate identity for the soon to be formed Transnet, the external product design.

On 17 February 1989 I wrote to Chief Engineer (Rolling Stock) as follows:

“Your office has verbally been requested to investigate the possibility of fitting all the coaches on this train with composition brake blocks. It is understood that investigations are already in progress while expeditious fitting of composition brake blocks will have a three-fold advantage viz. easier to keep the train clean, less maintenance required in the limited turn-around time available and possibly improved running times.

Presumably you will advise all concerned of your progress in this regard.”

At the time SATS were in the process of preparing designs for and implementing the fitting of composition brake blocks to all main line coaches, in line with suburban sets and because of the advantages to be had.  The design changes included a reduction from two (clasp brakes) to one block per wheel. The cast iron blocks had always been a problem in that the hot iron particles that came off during brake applications imbedded themselves in the paint work and gave an appearance of rust which became worse with time. The only way to remove these stains was with an acidic cleaning agent which did irreparable harm to aluminium windows and caused corrosion in coach body sides.

The life of a composition block was considerably longer than that of a cast iron block and the co-efficient of friction of a composition block was constant throughout the speed range, unlike a cast iron block which was low at high speeds and increased as speed decreased, requiring different train handling techniques.

The launch of the train was on Saturday 4 March 1989 with a scheduled 07h00 departure from Johannesburg, arrival in Pretoria at 0810 with a departure at 09h00. A launch function was held at Pretoria station and a very successful run was had to Sun City halt at km 153.5.

On the launch run I suggested that we fit rubber diaphragms to the suburban coaches to obviate passengers in them being exposed to the elements when moving to the lounge or dining car and this was agreed to. Steel channels were reclaimed from 110volt main line coaches imported between 1949 and 1951 which were being scrapped at the time and fitted to the suburban coaches, the dates fitted being in the fifth column in the table.

Shortly after the launch at a meeting on 23 March 1989 between Sun International and SATS a number of issues were raised, only a few of which will be discussed here. Sun International wanted to use their option to run shorter trains on Sundays or days when the train bookings were down and this was agreed to.

The issue of speed was again stressed. From 1 April 1989 two locomotives were to be used and for the time being would be unpainted. SATS would do a test with the 2 locomotives on 27 March 1989. In fact the test run occurred on 12 April behind 2 class 34’s numbers 34-644 and 34-691. The composition of the test train was the dynamometer car 15073, coaches 1,2,7,8,6,9,10,11,12,3,4,5 and van (refer to the table for the running numbers). The results showed only a 12 minute reduction in running time between Johannesburg and Sun City and a 15.5 minute reduction on the return journey. In the light of this and the additional cost involved it was decided to continue to run with 37-044.

At a subsequent meeting on the 9 May 1989, as a follow-up to the meeting of 23 March 1989, many items were discussed, most of which will not be highlighted here. Of importance though, Ernie Joubert from Sun International mentioned for interest sake that a survey had been done on the train and the main complaint from passengers had been that the journey was too long. SATS mentioned that 90km/hr was the maximum for wooden type coaches (none of the coaches were timber, so this was not true- it would have been more accurate and made more sense had they said that the side door type L-44 coaches were fitted with white metal bearings (plain bearings) as opposed to roller or taper bearings and for that reason did not want to exceed 90km/hr) and to quote the minutes of the meeting, “because of the position of points on Pretoria – Heystekrand section speed restrictions of 30km/hr have to be maintained”. This probably referred to self-normalizing switches in which case the speed restriction was only applicable through the stations and halts. 

Mention was made of the possibility of converting modern main line sitter coaches and fitting Metroblitz seats along the lines of that which had been done for the Hotham Valley Railway in Australia and tentative costs for the conversion were given. This was to replace the side door coaches.

By this time the train was already getting dirty and would get worse until fitted with composition blocks. Sun International even considered repainting the coaches.

Mention was also made of the possibility of running a Wild Coast Sun train and this would have been pursued in a separate meeting.

By the 18 July 1989 the last of the coaches had been fitted with composition blocks and on 19 July I was able to make a recommendation on how the train could be cleaned.

The train suffered from declining patronage and was eventually cancelled from Monday 30 March, 1992, almost three years after its launch." 

50. Although not geographically on the Knights-Fountains section this photograph is added here to complete the Sun City Express story. The only other known shot of this particular train was taken between Irene and Verwoerdburg at a location already illustrated in this chapter.  

On 14 December, 1988 a test run was undertaken to Sun City to determine running times for the train. Locomotive 37-044 was in its first short-lived Sun City Express livery which was deemed uninspiring and soon changed before the inaugural run. This may be one of only two known shots of this locomotive in this livery. Some of the coaches had already been painted but equivalents were used to replace those still in workshops. At least the colour of the dynamometer car matched the nose of the locomotive. The train is seen here passing through the Wonderboom Poort.                                                                                                                                    

51. On 16th April 1989 Eugene photographed the Sun City Express between Irene and Verwoerdburg (Centurion) on its outward journey to Sun City pleasure resort and casino.  The locomotive was the re-geared (for higher speed) class 37 No 37-044 specially dedicated to this work and finished in bright livery to match her train.

The express commenced service to Sun City on 11th March 1989 and ran on Saturdays from Johannesburg through 1989 and 1990.  The route was Johannesburg - Pretoria - Rustenburg - Heystekrand.  A halt with a single platform, named "Sun City", was built alongside the single track Rustenburg - Thabazimbi line where it crosses the R556 road to Sun City. Passengers were bussed from there to the resort, about 10 km away. The platform still exists and is occasionally used by the Blue Train and Rovos Rail.

52. On Saturday 11th May 1991 diesel locomotive 37-044 passed the same site with a much reduced load. Sun International paid Spoornet Passenger Services per vehicle so the load was adjusted based on demand. The position of the sleepers had also been changed following complaints from passengers that when the sleepers were behind the locomotive on the return journey the noise was so loud that sleeping was impossible.  This train has just a steam heat vehicle, one type L-44, one type E-16 sleeper, lounge car type B-7 No 804, kitchen car type AA-38 No 335, dining car type A-37 No 105, two Transit coaches type EE-1 No’s 23901 and 23904 and a GD-2 No 2853 composite van. As no steam heat vehicle was painted in Sun City Express Colours it was pot luck as to which colour was used as there were 4 liveries, the original red, grey, orange, and later blue. 

53. The Diamond Express was originally introduced between Kimberley and Bloemfontein to provide a service for railway employees needing to attend the Railway College at Esselin Park but obviously other markets were targeted as well. The train was one of the first to be painted in the blue and grey colour scheme, each coach being stencilled with the name Diamond Express on one end and Interpax in the centre. The train was popular and at peak times was strengthened  to accommodate additional passengers resulting in what was termed in railway circles the “smartie” look with the various liveries. The train is almost at its destination as it approaches Irene northbound on Friday, 16 December 1994 behind two of the several “Q” (for quality) 5E1’s specially prepared and used on the Braamfontein passenger link.

54. For a time 14E's worked to Capital Park in the morning, returning south in the afternoon. Here 14-105, 14-001 and 14-106 lead a load of empty beer wagons destined for SAB at Rosslyn north over the 3 arch Hennops River bridge just south of Pinedene on 19 May 2001. With the introduction of the Metroblitz, the level crossing just north of Pinedene was closed and the traffic diverted under this bridge. The retaining wall supporting the new road is visible to the right. Of interest is that the same river bears the name Kaalspruit on the adjacent road.

In case you hadn't noticed, we have been gradually working our way northwards (with a couple of exceptions) so it seems appropriate to introduce Bruno's map of the 1938 deviation that eliminated the tight horseshoe in the Fountains Valley.  

52. Trains in transition. From the end of the 1980’s liveries started changing, no more so than on main line trains. Working its way up the 1938 deviation on Sunday 24 November 1991, the “Marula” express from Pietersburg to Johannesburg, hauled by a Capital Park based class 16E stencilled for the “Bosvelder” which it would fetch from Johannesburg to take to Pyramid, is climbing out of Pretoria southbound between Fountains and Sportpark.  The train normally had coaches in the orange livery but had been strengthened with two 3rd class sitter coaches in the old red and grey livery for weekend traffic. The Wegman double diner had been added at Pretoria to run spare to Johannesburg.

That's all for now folks.  The next chapter will cover the first part of the railway from Union Junction to Vereeniging on the main line from Johannesburg and Germiston to the Orange Free State.