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South-Eastwards as far as Volksrust (2nd part) by Les Pivnic ©

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Wattles to Union Junction

In this part we start by looking at traffic in the Wattles area before moving down the line to Union Junction where the Natal and OFS main lines diverge.


1. 15F 3038 shows her paces with train 196 passing Wattles only two days before steam was taken off this rostered duty. Even the little girl on the platform is impressed with the F’s performance up the grade!

 2. Wattles looks rather peaceful with a Germiston push-pull shuttle pulling in alongside the platform before setting off back to “Railway City”. 

3. Although still in original livery, these two class 31s nos.001 & 032 were already carrying their new number plates and classification.  The siding signal is off indicating a goods train is on its way up the grade from Union and it will be going into Elsburg Yard.

4. Class 3E No 209 rolls down grade through Wattles with another goods train for Kroonstad and beyond.  This particular 3E gave me one of my fastest trips ever on train 202 (forerunner of Trans Karoo) between Johannesburg and Welverdiend back in 1952.  Just beyond Midway she had the 600 ton main line passenger train moving at 65mph!

Prior to 1960, green was the traditional colour for SAR electric locomotives with yellow stripes being added in the late 1950s.  When the SAR celebrated 100 years of railways in South Africa in 1960, the Administration decided to adopt new colour schemes for its passenger stock as well as electric and diesel locomotives.  Gulf Red was the colour initially chosen for locomotives and the yellow stripes were carried over from the earlier green livery. Initially, the yellow stripes were applied to the full body-length of the locomotives but these were later curtailed to just beyond the cab-sides. Gulf Red also gave way to Red Oxide later. 

Personally I preferred the earlier green livery, which seemed to weather better than the red but this is obviously a subjective comment - we all see things differently through our own eyes.

5. On 19 March 1961, class 1E 158 in green livery whined her way up-grade through Wattles with a hauler from Vereeniging.

6. Class 3E No 207 in action at Wattles with a Vereeniging local in July 1960.  Seven side-door coaches – hardly a load for a 3E!

7. This time it was 3E No 208 with only 8 coaches heading for Vereeniging.  The Germiston shuttle can be seen to the left alongside the up Wattles platform.

8. A Volksrust-based 15F – its home shed identifiable by the trade-mark white-painted valence to the running board - comes thrashing up the grade past Wattles with train 196 ex Volksrust and Natal.  As she rushes by, the fireman is trying to get the stubborn left-hand injector to pick up.  Note the dignified rake of imperial brown clerestory coaches – they had so much more character than Union Carriage’s tin boxes.

9. Moving southwards towards Union on 30 October 1960 I found these two class 1-DE diesels with No 738 leading, working an up goods train to Germiston – did you spot the 1938 Chevvy in the background?

10. Dave recorded these two veterans - a class 10BR and a class 8 running light between Union and Wattles probably some time in 1972.  Two class 10BRs were mounted on plinths at stations - Kroonstad (756) and Roodepoort (750) while a third sister (engine 758) found its way into Uitenhage Museum .  The 10BR in this photo is No 750, en route to being mounted at Roodepoort. 

11. This is an official SAR photo of the original Drakensberg Express in the dark green livery.  The train is returning from Durban and is seen here in the early morning between Union and Wattles behind a pair of 5E1s.  I did record this fine-looking train on ciné but thanks to Dave and SAR we also have good stills of the occasion! 

12. On the hundredth birthday of railways in South Africa (26/6/60) I went out to Union to do some photography.  First up was 3E 210 resplendent in green livery with a goods train from the OFS.

13. On the same day class 15AR No 1963 is seen leaving Union en route to Germiston with another goods train. 

14. Same place but 6 months later (11/12/60) two 15Fs 2928 and 3024 with goods from Natal open up for the climb towards Wattles and Elsburg. 

15. After the double-headed goods, class 32.067 motored past with the Trans Natal express from Volksrust and Durban.  Another complete rake of clerestory coaches except for the Wegmann type A-37/AA-38 dining car. 

16. On a date unknown, Roger Perry found this pair of 1Es working a goods load south to Vereeniging.  During the late 1950s – early 1960s, a number of 1Es displaced by the new 5Es in Natal were stabled at Braamfontein ERS.  They became a common sight around the Reef doing hauler work – transferring loads from yard to yard. 

17. This photo represents a piece of SAR history. On an appropriately gloomy 31 March 1964, 196-up ex Volksrust and Natal was worked by steam for the very last time from Volksrust to Germiston. Class 15F 2976 did the honours and here she is overtaking an up freight at Union en route to Germiston.  Nobody bothered to mark the engine with chalk or anything else to announce that this was steam’s last trip on this train.

18. The following morning - 1 April 1964 - I was back at Union to record the first electric workings from Volksrust and these two 5Es Nos 302 & 555 came through with a block load of coking coal from Natal.

19. Class 3E No 198 got in on the act with a string of empties coming through Union from Vereeniging. Electric traction had already taken over the section to Kroonstad in November 1959.

20. Another historical image taken on 1 April 1964 at Union.  It shows the Trans Natal hauled by electric locomotives for the very first time on its entire journey from Durban. The units were classes 5E1 No 663 (leading) and 5E No 354 in green livery.  It would be interesting to know whether there was the previously normal locomotive change at Volksrust on this trip or whether there was only a change of crew on the units.  As with my picture of the last steam-worked 196-up, the Trans Natal is overtaking an up freight, also electrically worked. Note the complete absence of ghastly smoke pollution so glaringly visible in picture 17 - what a difference 24 hours made!

21. Ah, that's better!  Turning the clock back to 1 October 1960, this class GF was approaching Union with a goods train from Frankfort with an almost clear exhaust. The GFs worked the section Frankfort – Balfour North – Heidelberg – Union – Germiston at that time.

22. 15F 3029 with a goods train from Volksrust passing the same spot just south of Union on 10 October 1960.

23. Four years later to the very day (10/10/64) I was back at Union and bagged this 15AR working a string of empties to Germiston.

24. On 10 October 1960 these two class 32s were in charge of the Trans Natal express as the train approached Union from Rooikop, Volksrust and Natal. 

25. Two class 33 diesels (No 58 leading) were given the task of picking up this new Blue Train set at the Union Carriage & Wagon works in Nigel and delivering it to Pretoria where it would be stabled.  This SAR photo shows one of the brand new trains on the sweeping curve between Rooikop and Union in 1972.

26. The second set on its delivery trip – again with a pair of 33s in charge and loco 511 leading.  This time the SAR photographer was somewhat closer to Rooikop when he took this photo.  UCW staff gave the two new Blue Train sets names – one set was appropriately named “Nigel” while the other set was “George” named after George Watson, Chairman of Commonwealth Engineering, Sydney, Australia.

27. Photographed by an SAR photographer at virtually the same spot as the Blue Train, here is a 15F working a load of Witbank coal on the direct line to Natalspruit from Springs and Rooikop.

28. Same curve, different line near Rooikop.  These two class 1-DE diesels with No 708 leading are working another load of coal but this one is going up to Union and on to Germiston.

29. Back in 1965, I photographed two 5E1s (E754 leading) working 193-down the morning departure from Johannesburg to Durban, as it approached Rooikop from Union.

30. In 1959 a new commuter line for the black townships was opened between Simpan, Kutalo and Pilot with an extension to Kwesine in 1961. The Simpan and Kutalo lines joined at Elsburg to form a single route to Kwesine that crossed over the Union – Rooikop main just north-west of Rooikop.  At both Elsburg and Rooikop this line was a separate entity to the SAR main lines.  The photograph shows an 11-coach EMU set taking the fly-over across the Volksrust main line near Rooikop.

31. Two class 32s were photographed on 6 November 1960 with empties coming from Vereeniging and Natalspruit direct to Rooikop en route to the Witbank mines via Springs


In our next instalment we will spend some time at Rooikop and then work our way down towards Heidelberg and beyond.