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Part 26 - Braamfontein West to Klerksdorp (home signal) (1) by Les Pivnic ©

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My last chapter covering the Krugersdorp – Zeerust line ended with the following statement:

We will pick up next time with the tragic episode that developed at Krugersdorp Loco with regard to the Museum development there.  It would be more appropriate to refer to the LACK of development there!

I have decided to place the unfortunate episode that developed at Krugersdorp Loco on ice for now and rather to complete the coverage of what was the Western Transvaal System with its HQ in Johannesburg.


Having already dealt with Johannesburg Station and Braamfontein Yards, this chapter covers the main line from Johannesburg to Klerksdorp but more specifically – Braamfontein West to the Eastern Home Signal at Klerksdorp. This line always had an air of superiority over the other lines out of Johannesburg probably because it was the start of the main line to Cape Town – the Mother City.

Although the main line from Durban was by far the main goods artery feeding the vibrant commercial activity of the City of Johannesburg, the Cape Main Line hosted SAR's premier trains – the Union Limited and Union Express – later known as the Blue Train (1946).  In regular service, the Blue Train was largely confined to the Cape Main Line – only occasionally being used on odd tourist trips to Durban for the July Handicap – South Africa’s premier horse race.

The original line from Johannesburg to Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp via Krugersdorp, Randfontein, Bank, Welverdiend and Frederickstad, opened to traffic in 1897.  An alternative route via Langlaagte, Midway and Bank was added in 1938.  Finally, in 1966 a third route was made available via Midway, Lawley, Grasmere, Evaton, Houtkop and Fochville.  We will examine the last-mentioned in a later part of this chapter.   

Prior to World War II passenger trains used the original route via Randfontein to reach Potchefstroom – this included the Union Limited and Union Express.  However, early postwar these top–link trains as well as 202-up and 203-down (forerunners of the Trans Karoo) were diverted to the route via Midway to Bank.  This lasted until political unrest in later years resulted in these trains being stoned en route through Soweto to Midway - they then reverted to the original route via Randfontein.  Further changes, especially to the route used by the Blue Train, would occur even later but these will be covered in the next segment. 

A Tribute to Frank Garrison.

What better way to start than to pay tribute to the late Frank Garrison who made wonderful photographs on this line in the 1930s. A word about him would not be out of place.

Frank was a member of the pre-War “Railway Circle” (an enthusiast group) but more importantly, he worked in the Time Tables Office of the General Manager.  He was an operating genius!  He would be given the required tonnage of goods and the frequency of passenger trains to be run over a particular section of line and would sit at his desk with a large sheet of graph paper (no computers!) and work out a complete time table showing the progress of all trains (in both directions) while allowing for passenger train preference over goods traffic.  On single lines his graphs showed all the sidings where trains needed to cross.  Naturally he had the advantage of a competent Operating Department running trains to time as closely as possible.  He would never have coped with today’s shambles!

I met Frank in the late 1950s and we became close friends. I would regularly visit his Mayfair flat which he shared with his aged mother. His parents came from Leicester in England (where Frank was born) and his father joined the Catering Department as a steward – rising in time to Chief Steward.  When I befriended Frank his dad had already passed on.  Frank would have risen to great heights in SAR Management had he been prepared to take transfer on promotion.  He refused to do so because of his concerns over his mother and this resulted in Frank not reaching top management levels which he would have done if he was prepared to move around the Country.

Frank photographed extensively on the line under review because it was relatively close to his home in Mayfair.  He occasionally ventured further afield to the Pretoria area and also to the Cape but his main sphere of activity was in the greater Johannesburg area as well as the Witwatersrand.

I spent regular evenings with Frank at his flat talking about trains and the SAR in particular. He had an old camera that he affectionately called the “muzzle-loader” which was in effect, a Voightländer bellows unit that was loaded with individual glass plate negatives for each exposure.   I was allowed access to boxes of his glass plate negatives which we would print in a makeshift darkroom in his kitchen!  My deep regret is that when this was being done I had little darkroom experience and the prints bore testimony to my lack of expertise.  Much later I would happily work in my professional-level darkroom making prints for the THF and the SA Military Museum in Johannesburg but that was still many years away!

I placed all of the FGG prints into an album and Frank wrote the captions for each print.  I will be using these captions in quotation marks to describe each of his images used here. If needed I will add my comments after Frank’s description. He didn’t keep records of his photographs so many of the image dates are only estimates.  As in the past, the images are presented in a broad chronological order in preference to a geographical order.  This allows one to appreciate how things changed as the years passed by.  Due to this being a tribute to Frank Garrison I am also taking the liberty of including a few additional images that might have been presented in the Braamfontein Yard chapters.

1.  “Engine class 10 – Up local train leaving Langlaagte for the West Rand – c 1935”

2.  2.  “Engine class 19A – passing Braamfontein West signal cabin – quadrupling under way – taken c 1936”


3.  “Engine class 19B 1414 with Caprotti valve gear heading an Up local for the West Rand passing Mayfair.  Quadrupling under way c 1936.” 

4. “Class MF on shunting duties at Langlaagte C.1935/6”.  [During the early 1920s nine of the 14 class MFs were converted from true Mallet compounds by replacing the slide-valved low-pressure cylinders.  The engine as photographed by Frank shows the four high-pressure cylinders in place.]

5. “19C – non-white train between Langlaagte and Mayfair for Jeppe. Quadrupling under way – c 1936.”


6. “Engine 19C – non-white train leaving Langlaagte for Jeppe taken C.1935.” 

7.  “Class 19A – Down local to the East Rand approaching Braamfontein East signal cabin – before quadrupling – taken c 1934.”

8.  “Class 19C – empty stock (former CGR) worked from staging point near Orlando approaching Langlaagte – doubling under way & quadrupling followed – taken c 1936/37.”  [I would be inclined to say that Frank took this photo in the vicinity of Croesus.]

9.  Frank omitted to write the caption for this fine image. It shows a class 16C with a modern type KT tender working 202-up fast passenger to Cape Town, departing Johannesburg. Several Braamfontein-based class 16C locomotives were fitted with these newer tenders for working main line passenger trains to Kimberley and Bloemfontein. The A-22/AA-23 dining saloon is in a test livery of green and cream c 1933/4.

10. “Engine 851 class 16A four cylinders simple, on Down goods approaching Mayfair.  Note: work right foreground icw lowering and quadrupling of the lines c 1936.”


11. “Engine 822 (?) 16C on 202-up for Cape Town passing Industria Halt original site 193?” [I would suggest c 1933/4).  Note the two-tone livery of the dining car.] 

12. “Class 10 – Up local between Grosvenor and Langlaagte – quadrupling started. Taken c 1936/37.”

13. “Engine 822 class 16C, driver Dowie with 202-up to Cape Town passing Braamfontein West signal cabin – c 193?” [I would suggest 1933/34.]

14. “Engine 822 class 16C, driver Dowie, train 202- up Johannesburg to Cape Town between Mayfair and Langlaagte – note work on quadrupling – c 1933/34.”  [Note also that No 822 has the newer type KT tender.]

15. “Engine no.862 class 16D train 432 East London between Mayfair and Langlaagte 193?”  [This would have been taken by Frank around 1934/35 when the 16Ds were still stationed at Bloemfontein.  They were transferred to the Cape in 1939 when Bloemfontein got the six class 16Es and the six wide-firebox 16DAs from Kimberley.]

16. “Engine 879 class 16DA wide firebox on 2-up leaving Johannesburg c 1935.”  [Now that's a decent headboard!  Note also: Engine 879 still fitted with Caprotti valve gear.]

17. “Engine 809 class 16B in blue livery ex 1934 Royal Train, working 2222-up extra Union Limited passing Roodepoort, 1935.”  [This engine was also fitted (after the Royal stint) with a type KT tender.  In this photo, 809 was the regular engine of driver P.C.Swanepoel and fireman C.H.McLean.]


18. A 16DA narrow-firebox working 2-up the Union Limited passing the Braamfontein West signal cabin en route to Cape Town c 1928.  From 1930 the wide-firebox 16DAs took over this duty making this image rather special.

19. Another FGG image taken from the same spot but this time c 1933 a wide-box DA is passing the Braamfontein West signal cabin with 2-up.  Note: The headboard was reversible – one side “Union Limited” for 2-up and the other “Union Express” for 1-down.  Clearly, whoever hung the nameboard on the smokebox door this time hung it the wrong way around!  The guilty party was probably the fireman!

20. “Engine class GF on train 318 leaving Roodepoort [for Lichtenburg].  CSAR pattern tubular signal post and arm taken C.1935.” 

21. “Engine 856 class 16E on 2-up passing Roodepoort c 1936.”  [Note: By this time the Union Limited was complete in the blue and cream livery.  Note also the CSAR signals that survived well into SAR history – at this point already 26 years!]

22. Another Braamfontein West image showing 854 class 16E working 2-up to Kimberley.  Based at Kimberley, these large Pacifics worked north to Johannesburg and south to Beaufort West in the 1930s until they were replaced by class 23s in 1939.

23. “855 class 16E on 2-up between Mayfair and Langlaagte – note the quadrupling under way c 1936.” 

24. The final FGG image shows a wide-firebox 16DA working 2-up, the Union Limited to Cape Town, approaching Westbury c 1933. 

25. In 1941 Krugersdorp had a celebration – the new station complex was opened with a lot of pomp and ceremony!  Here we see the station all decorated for the opening.  Note the string of classic American cars all parked in the angled parking bays!

26. A special train was run out to Krugersdorp from Johannesburg and a class 8 with her proud driver and fireman is seen at the platform ready for the return trip.


27. In 1951 the Reef electrification was extended westwards as far as Welverdiend.  The idea was to reduce the use of steam engines in the Johannesburg area.  I visited Welverdiend in the year that saw the catenary arrive and terminate at that station. Here is a class 15AR working a goods train from Klerksdorp to Johannesburg passing through Welverdiend.  The route indicating signals on the right provided access to either the main line to Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp (upper) or the branch line to Lichtenburg and Coligny.

28. I had come to Welverdiend to photograph the Blue Train departing behind class 23 No 3282.  She had replaced the 3E unit that brought the train from Johannesburg.  When 3282’s driver got the right of way the initial movement was hardly discernible!  The art of driving a steam locomotive back in those days was something to behold!

29. In January 1952 I went to the Cape on holiday. Returning on 203-down we were held at Oberholzer to allow 2-up, the Blue Train, free passage to Welverdiend where a class 23 would be waiting to take the train on to Klerksdorp.  Those were the days when the Blue Train had top priority - if a signalman delayed it unnecessarily he was fined a pound-a-minute!

30. Back at Welverdiend a class 15F simmers quietly with a goods train waiting for the right-of-way to depart for the Reef.  The class 3E in the distance has just come off a passenger train from Johannesburg. 


31. Sometime in 1953 I was back in Welverdiend taking a few more photos.  Here is a brand new class 25NC arriving from Klerksdorp with a goods train.  In the early 1950s I also failed to note engine numbers and dates! 

32. Another 25NC rolled down-grade into Welverdiend Station with 203-down – forerunner of the Trans Karoo.

33. I was lucky to catch 1317-down passenger coming off the Lichtenburg branch behind a 19D.  This was the regular motive power at that time when the line was still laid with 60lb rail.

34. In 1954 I again visited Welverdiend where I found two 25NCs waiting in No 1 loop with a goods train for Klerksdorp.  They were waiting for the Up Blue Train to pass ex Johannesburg.  In those days the Railways had their priorities right!


35. Before the Blue Train arrived I took a shot of a 25NC moving into Welverdiend Yard with a goods train ex Klerksdorp and Kimberley.  The driver said “What about me?”  I duly obliged! 

36. The Blue Train had its class 3E replaced by a 25NC which made an impressive start away from Welverdiend.  Her next stop would be Potchefstroom and then Klerksdorp.  Pooled from their introduction, the 25NCs were run through from Welverdiend to De Aar and visa versa, recoaling at Warrenton.  After the electrification to Klerksdorp they ran from there to De Aar, still recoaling at Warrenton.  On the left, the 19D of the daily mixed to Lichtenburg, 1328-up, awaits its 14:15 departure.  

37. Class 3E 209 waits for the signal at Krugersdorp with a goods train heading for the Western Transvaal.  These 3Es were really maids of all work – happily working the Blue Train at 60mph or a heavy coal train on the main line.   The old building behind the unit is the original NZASM Station building dating back to 1896. 

38. Official SAR photographers were also assigned to take photographs for publicity purposes.  Here is one of them showing a 2M1 EMU that has just departed from Krugersdorp heading west to Randfontein. Note the black and yellow zebra striped top headlamp panel of the motor coach.  This was tried in the early 1950s but was not perpetuated. 

39. This SAR shot of a 2M2 Reef EMU set was taken between Wes-Rand and Krugersdorp.  The train was heading away from the camera towards Krugersdorp.


40. Another SAR publicity shot taken quite close to the previous one shows a 2M2 EMU Reef set – this time heading west towards Randfontein. The line to the right in the photo is the line to Zeerust. 

41. This SAR shot is of special significance to me – it shows the original route-relay interlocking panel installed at Krugersdorp signal cabin.  This panel was subsequently replaced and we had it put on display in the SA Railway Museum under Rissik Street Bridge in Johannesburg. 

42. In this publicity photo taken near Roodepoort on the West Rand we see class 5E Series 3 No 567 with the Blue Train photographed c 1958/59.  The new non-clerestory Wegmann diner placed in service in that period gives the date away!

43. The photographer took another shot of the same train between Florida and Unified. I would think that it must have been specially arranged because of local traffic conditions, I doubt whether he could have chased the train and beaten it to his second vantage point!

44. The photographer also took this shot of a 2M2 EMU from the same bridge probably on the same assignment.

45. This shot again from the same bridge was definitely taken in 1958 – it shows a brand new 5M Reef EMU (set R23) heading towards Unified from Florida on the West Rand.

46. On 3rd February 1960 I was positioned between Braamfontein and Mayfair to get a few railway photos and this is one of them showing a 5M EMU heading towards Mayfair en route to Randfontein.

47. Back at Krugersdorp in the early 1960s, a 5M EMU (set R7) in the new red and grey livery was photographed approaching Krugersdorp from Randfontein.  The “R” signified a set used on the Springs – Randfontein service on the Reef.

48. In 1961 another trip to Welverdiend produced this photo of a 25NC departing for Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp with 202-up fast passenger to Cape Town.

49. On the same day this class GMA was seen leaving Welverdiend with a goods train for Coligny and Lichtenburg.

50. A dust-covered Blue Train arrived from Klerksdorp with a 25NC in charge.  The train had obviously passed through a dust storm en route!  I wonder where that little boy in the foreground is today?  He was certainly intrigued by the arrival of the Blue Train! 

This brings us to the end of the first part of this chapter. I will continue with this line in the next part.