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Part 3: Johannesburg Station in Transition by Les Pivnic ©

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From 1955 until 1959 the 1932 station was replaced with a completely new facility using both the existing site and most of the old Wanderers cricket ground.  This was an epic project, one of the biggest tackled by SAR until that time.  That it was accomplished while all the while providing a normal train service with minimum inconvenience to the public speaks volumes for the dedication of the Operating staff and the expertise of the Chief Civil Engineer’s department which at that time was mostly run by ex-servicemen engineers from the South African Engineering Corps headed by the legendary “Rooi Piet” Evans. 


While it was an outstanding technical accomplishment, as an exercise in architectural creativity SAR’s new flagship could hardly be described as successful.  Instead of further developing the gritty style and character of the 1932 station, this was discarded entirely and a modernistic approach using concrete, glass, chrome and plastics was adopted.  There were separate concourses for blacks and whites (who were perforce obliged to mix at platform level!) while the underground platforms in dismal concrete were dark and dungeonlike.
The map by Bruno Martin shows Johannesburg station in proper juxtaposition with the maze of lines criss-crossing the Witwatersrand.  Note also that the main station is actually one of four which served the city, the others were Westgate (for Soweto), Faraday (for the eastern townships) and Booysens (on the Rand Mineral Line) which was the main-line station for the numerous Bombelas that transported mineworkers to and from their homelands. 
 1.      Dave Parsons captured the scene at Johannesburg after the Wanderers Grounds had been cleared and Phase 1 of the new station was well under way. The massive scale of the project can be gauged from the piles of reinforcing-steel bars stored in the foreground of this photo. Phase 1 entailed building a replica of the old station in terms of platform layout but about 13ft lower (for an idea of the depth of the excavation look at the baggage van on a siding in the old station, extreme right of the picture). It would cater for all passenger traffic until phase 2 could be built on the site of the old platforms and added to phase 1.

2.      This SAR photo gives a good idea of how phase 1 was being built alongside the old station.  Several of the longer new platforms taking shape would be temporarily split in half to provide more trackage until phase 2 could be added. At this very early stage of construction I was eagerly anticipating the development of the new station – never for a moment did I realise how disappointing it would be.

3.    The Johannesburg Art Gallery looks down on the actual point where the running lines into Johannesburg from the Jeppe side were to be slewed across to the right to connect with the throat of the new station. Note the new design of double slips. SAR photo.

4.   Dave Parsons photographed this 15F assisting an EMU between Jeppe and Braamfontein during the change-over from the old station to phase 1 of the new station.  The F is seen here at the eastern throat to Johannesburg station hauling an EMU with its pants down between Doornfontein and Johannesburg.  Several classes of steam locomotive were used during the "Dead-Section Order" when the tracks were slewed from the old to the new station.  Classes that come to mind during this operation were: 4AR, 7, 12A, 15A, 15AR, 15F, 16CR, GF and GM.  While watching this fascinating scene at one point, no less than 11 locos of the various classes came through as one train in order to get the balance of motive power at the right end of the complicated operation.  It was a credit to the CCE, Electrical and Operating departments that NO trains stopped running during this difficult change-over period.  The SAR was special in more ways than one!

5.      The slewing of the lines has now been completed and trains are beginning to use the new station phase 1.  Note the little class 7 in this SAR photo.  A Soweto-bound EMU waits at the Home Signal.  Steam locomotives were used to haul all trains through the new section initially.  The electrical catenary riggers had to wait until the trackwork was finished before they could tackle their part of the switchover. Even this new trackwork was temporary because it would again require re-alignment when phase 2 was ready to be connected.


6.  This interesting SAR photo shows the new western approach to Johannesburg being prepared for connection by the gangers while the station pilot running tender first on the old formation is bringing an empty main line train from the station en route to the carriage sidings in Braamfontein.
7. The trickiness of the task undertaken by the CCE and his staff is emphasised by the maze of trackwork at various levels in this SAR photo.  This was the western end of Johannesburg station just before the old running lines were disconnected and slewed across to the new formation.  One of the last trains heading for the old station can be seen disappearing under the road bridge at Harrison Street

8. The size of the project becomes apparent in this view of Phase 1 of the new station when it had just been brought into use.  Nine platform faces completed – most long enough to be divided into two, with another nine still to come in Phase 2 (on the left).  All are through roads.  A close look reveals several other trains already using or passing through the new station and a string of vans at the platform on the extreme right.  Note the smoky smudges on the bridges – in those days if it wasn’t electric it was steam!

9.      The 1932 Station was now being rapidly demolished to make way for phase 2 of the new one.  The famous old wrought-iron and glass structure on platforms 3,4,5& 6 was carefully dismantled and transferred for re-erection to the Railway College at Esselen Park.  Careful planning allowed DZs to be shunted in from the Braamfontein (western) end to allow easy loading on rail to remove the material.  The new station was built 13 feet lower than the old one to reduce the gradient at each end of the platforms.  Note the scarcity of day-glo jackets, hard hats or any other form of safety clothing or equipment!  SAR photo.


10. Compare these skeletal remains with the NZASM’s graceful old Park Station (Part 1, photos 1&2) or as later incorporated into Johannesburg’s 1932 station (Part 2, photo 5).  This is the sad sight of the roof structure and main platforms during demolition.  Only the ghosts of trains and even a cricket ball would haunt those vaulted ceilings at their new home at the Railway College.  SAR photo. 
11.  A 2M1 EMU sets sail for the East Rand from phase 1 of the new station.  Even this scene was temporary – the addition of phase 2 would change this view dramatically in due course. SAR photo.

12.  and 13. While phase 1 of the new station to the left of these SAR photos was already providing passenger facilities, 50 year-old 1021 class 7A was busy hauling demolished materials away from the site.  Almost certainly she was the last steam locomotive to work at the old station. 


13.  The depth of the new station relative to the old is clear from this view of 1021 precariously perched on the edge of the excavation. 

14.  This SAR photo shows phase 2 taking shape on the site of the 1932 station.  The depth of the excavation needed to lower the original track levels by 13ft is apparent from the rough earthen bank zig-zagging through the left of the picture.  In the bottom right corner part of a goods train can be seen passing through the first part of the new station.


15.  During this time of radical changes I also decided that it was time to take a few photos in and around the station. With phase 2 taking shape in the background, a class GEA on hauler duties trundles through with a balcony saloon serving as an enginemen’s caboose on a goods train.


 16.  A 15F leaving the new station with train 193 – the morning departure for Volksrust and Durban. Tucked away in the background are two more main line trains (one of them, just arrived, having its mailbags offloaded) and a class 3E waiting on signals.



17.  In the background a class 15AR rolls in with a local passenger train from Vereeniging while a 15F awaits departure with a main line train for Kroonstad and Bloemfontein.


18.  The old station in the background is disappearing fast and a rather neatly turned-out 4AR drifts through with a goods train from Germiston.  Steam traction was at this stage still much in evidence but the time when steam would be banned was already on the horizon.

19. A 16CR is on van duty while work on phase 2 in the background proceeds apace.  Note the ex CSAR swing-door suburban coach in the local passenger train consist across the way from the 16CR – bottom right-hand corner of this SAR photo.

20.  A 15F departing with 10-up all stations, Krugersdorp to Klerksdorp in January 1958. Note the roof of the new station concourse under construction in the background.

21.  A class GM about to depart with 324-up all stations, Krugersdorp to Zeerust and Mafeking in January 1958.

22.  A class 4AR bringing in the empty stock for a Vereeniging local from the North Passenger Yard. The train would have been worked onwards from Johannesburg with a 15A, 15AR or 16CR.  January 1958.


23.  In 1958 I photographed class 5E 337 arriving at Johannesburg with a passenger train from Klerksdorp. In those days the SAR Time Tables abounded with semi-main line trains which covered shorter distances on main lines but did not go all the way to the end of the line.

24. In the same year as my previous shot, I caught this 15F departing Johannesburg with train 432/3 for Bloemfontein and the Eastern Cape. Steam on this turn would only last another year.

25.  The old Blue Train was housed in Braamfontein at the “Blouloods” (Blue Shed) and two saloons would be worked through to Pretoria to provide Blue Train service to the Capital.  Conversely, the Pretoria saloons would be worked through to Johannesburg where they would be attached to the main train.  In my photograph a class 3E is seen at Johannesburg en route to Pretoria with the two saloons. Massive power for two coaches!

26.  When the class 4Es first entered service in 1952/54, they were used in Natal because ESCOM was late in providing the power to energise the catenary from Wellington to Touws River.  From March 1953 the 4Es were gradually transferred to the Cape where they would work for the rest of their lives.  They were transferred from Natal via the Western Transvaal System where two of them were commandeered by Operating and briefly put to work from the ERS at Braamfontein.  By sheer luck I happened to be at Johannesburg Station when one of them, E247, passed through the station with a goods heading for Angelo Yard.

27. Class 4AR 1554 was working as station pilot at Johannesburg bringing in the Blue Train from the Yard in 1958.  1554 was the very first 4A to be fitted with a Watson standard boiler.  She retained her original cowcatcher and cab which was cut back to accommodate the new boiler and wash-out plugs.  All subsequent 4ARs had new cabs fitted.  Note also the new Wegmann dining car in the consist.  These cars worked on the Blue Train for a while but after representations in Parliament the original diners – Orange and Zambesi were restored to the two sets.

28.  In 1959 class 1-DE (31) diesel electric locos were tried and used successfully on certain main line trains out of Johannesburg.  I photographed two of them departing with train 432/3 for Bloemfontein and the Eastern Cape.

29.  Moving on 10 years, on the 11th April 1969 Johannesburg witnessed the start of a very special event. In conjunction with the SAR’s Publicity & Travel Department, the Historic Transport Association (HTA) organised a special working of the Blue Train to Cape Town using only steam traction.  Roger Perry’s shot shows 855 class 16E at the head of the Blue Train just prior to departure for Klerksdorp.  As can be seen from this and the following photograph, this special working created tremendous interest amongst the public.  Two class 16Es No’s 855 and 859 (as back-up) were brought up from Bloemfontein to work the first leg to Klerksdorp.




30.  People crowded around Driver Cooper and No 855 at the end of the platform.  Back in 1939 the 16Es were taken off Union Limited service when the Metro-Cammell air-conditioned stock was introduced on this train.  It was feared that if the train were brought to a stand at a signal on a grade like that between Kamfersdam and Kimberley, the Pacific would be unable to restart.  Now, 30-years later, 855 was being tasked with working the heavy air-conditioned train PLUS an additional lounge car, to Klerksdorp1.  The main fear this time was Hamberg Bank on the West Rand. Operating gave strict instructions to the signalmen concerned that this train was not to be stopped on Hamberg Bank!  I was in the leading vestibule with Frank Holland as we climbed the infamous grade and when Driver Cooper didn’t charge the bank from Florida we looked at each other with trepidation.  However, 855 forged uphill quite comfortably, marching triumphantly through Roodepoort with her 600-ton train, rapidly gaining speed on the level!   

1 The 1969 Blue Train consisted of 13 saloons made up as follows:

4x C-31A saloons @ 98,000 lbs tare each = 175 tons

4x C-31B saloons @ 103,000 lbs tare each = 184 tons

1x A-33 diner @ 94,000 lbs tare = 42 tons  

1x AA-34 kitchen car @ 104,000 lbs tare = 46.4 tons

2x B-3 lounge cars @ 94,000 lbs tare each = 84 tons

1x GC-25-C compo-van @ 89,000 lbs = 39.6 tons

+ allowance for passengers, staff, baggage and supplies = (say) 29 tons

All-up weight (estimated) = 600 tons



31.  In 1981 Sol Kersner’s Sun City Casino and Hotel near Rustenburg arranged to hire a dedicated rake of coaches and a class 37 diesel loco to haul what was known as the “Sun City Express” between Johannesburg, Pretoria and a rural halt that was specially created near Sun City.  Passengers transferred to buses from Sun City Halt to the Casino. Roger Perry photographed the class 37 leaving Johannesburg with the express in July of that year.




32.  The new Blue Trains were delivered in 1972. Two class 33 diesels hauled the new trains from the Nigel plant of Union Carriage & Wagon.  In Roger’s photo the train is seen leaving the western end of Johannesburg. Several test runs were made before the sets known as “George” and “Nigel” were placed into revenue service.

33.  In December 1979 Roger photographed the Blue Train leaving Johannesburg with two class 6E1s in charge. These two units (with a crew change at Klerksdorp) would work the train as far as the end of electrification at Kimberley where a pair of blue class 34s would work it onwards to Beaufort West.  It is interesting to record that on the one and only occasion that steam was permitted to haul 2-up from Johannesburg to Klerksdorp, on 16 May 1990, a single 25NC No 3476 prepared by the ERS staff at Braamfontein maintained the Blue timings with ease.

34.  For five years, commencing in 1990 the Trans Karoo was worked by steam on a Friday as far as Klerksdorp and back the following day. Although this was a special concession afforded to the staff at the Braamfontein ERS who still had a love for steam it was thought that good publicity would be gained.  In Roger’s photo class 25NC 3476 heads out of Johannesburg on her way to Klerksdorp.  She would work the opposing train on Saturday morning back to Johannesburg.  In the event these workings were highly successful, attracting quite a “groupie” following.  I will enlarge on this theme in forthcoming instalments.

35.  Our photographic sojourn in Johannesburg ends with a view of the whole new station after completion.  If you look closely you will see engine 805 mounted on her plinth near North Station Building and the parking area. This was the class 16B that Minister Ben Schoeman fired in his youth at Braamfontein.  The loco was later removed and now resides in the Outeniqua Transport Museum in George.

In the next instalment for the Western Transvaal System we will start going east towards Germiston.