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System 7, Part 2: Johannesburg between the Home Signals-2, by Les Pivnic ©

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1. A Railway photographer was on hand at the west end of Johannesburg Station on 30th April 1938 to shoot the departure of train 432/3 for Bloemfontein with 809 cl 16B in charge of driver J H Scholtz and fireman J H Gerrits. The 6th saloon behind the tender is the dining car in test livery of green and cream.



2. Just below the headlight of this class 23 is the name “Fancy Flyer” – bestowed by her regular driver who obviously appreciated the speed capabilities of his engine!  Note the additional adornments on the smokebox door – a common practice on regular engines and Pegasus was a favourite ornament.  The knuckle of the Buckeye coupler is split to accommodate the large amount of rolling stock that still had the bell couplers with link and pin which would only finally be phased out in the late 1950s.  The 23 was at the head of 11-down, ready to depart for Bloemfontein from the east end of Johannesburg Station. The little fellow was one of Dave Parsons’ sons, which dates the photo back to the early 1940s.



3. Having just passed Braamfontein almost at the end of its journey, a class 23 brings the Union Express into Johannesburg. This 1939 SAR photo is special for several reasons. Note the new air-conditioned saloons and lounge car. The dining car is still a wooden non air-conditioned type A-28 and the mail van is still in place behind the tender. The air-conditioned diners arrived in 1940 from England, soon replacing the A-28 seen in this rare shot. The practice of attaching a mail van to this train would also be discontinued with the full air-conditioned set. 


4. Johannesburg Station Concourse in July 1944. There are several noteworthy aspects to this wartime photograph – passengers in uniform are much in evidence and the races intermingled as one would expect in the days before apartheid.  Note the large “Station Calendar” (time tables) above the subway entrance that led to the platforms and flanked by marble staircases. One of the famous Pierneef paintings can be seen to the left of the staircase on that side. This was a graceful concourse for a grand station. 


5. Platforms 3,4,5 and 6 had parking facilities for the public – reached via a tunnel from the western end and exited via a ramp onto Wanderers Street on the eastern side. Note the milk churns on the right, of which more later.


I remember these platforms in the late 1940s when returning from Durban.  Red Nestlé chocolate machines dispensed “Penny” portions wrapped in the distinctive red wrapper. Fry’s machines were also in place. The main attraction of course was big main line steam machines constantly coming and going to and from far-off places.  The station reeked with atmosphere – mostly smoke!



6. SAR’s showpiece restaurant was situated on the east side of the concourse. The cuisine was the finest that the Catering Department could offer. The chefs on the Union Limited/Blue Train were trained in its kitchens. In later post-war years it became known as the “Blue Room” – a title that previously belonged to the Ladies Bar alongside the dining area.  Note the marble columns supporting the high ceilings, and the chandeliers that all contributed to a wonderful place to eat out – even if you weren’t catching the train. 


7. Platform 1 with the Union Limited headed by a class 23, minutes before departure which in those days would be on the stroke of the time published!  This SAR photo shows the mail van in place behind the tender, it would soon be discontinued. Everyone dressed appropriately for it was a social occasion when the Limited departed on its long journey to the Cape.  You can just see a couple chatting with the enginemen – those were the days when engine drivers, not airline pilots, were the public’s heroes. 


8. The 1932 miniature electric lever frame. The cabin which housed it replaced the earlier mechanical cabins at each end of the station. The signalling diagram gives a clear indication of the track layout at this time.



9. A class 2E leading a 1E on a goods train through Johannesburg in the 1940s. Roger Perry shot this rare combination at the western end of the station. Steam traction still ruled the main lines at this time but the use of electric locomotives through the station and on general Reef hauler service was an attempt to reduce the smoke nuisance in the CBD.



10. The famous Wanderers Cricket ground was hard adjacent to Johannesburg Station.  Note the greyhound racing track on the perimeter of the main field. This was the scene in the late 1940s before the Wanderers Club had to make way for the creation of a large new station. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would soon learn to deeply regret the passing of that grand station on the left – replaced by a concrete dungeon!



11. A train of another sort at Johannesburg.  The SAR conveyed milk and cream on passenger trains using TZ dairy wagons (see photos 20 and 26).  These were boxcar-shaped vehicles with coke packed between woven stiff-wire enclosures forming the sides of the wagon. Tanks on the roof trickled water constantly through the coke, thus keeping the inside cool by evaporation – crude but remarkably effective.  The milk depot at the west end of the Station used petrol-driven tractors to move the trailers around – I never saw a milk can fall off!



12. In this general view of the eastern end the motor vehicle ramp off platforms 5 & 6 can be clearly seen. The Wanderers Cricket Ground on the right also has a railway-related story to tell. A South African batsman by the name of Sinclair hit the ball in a test match for six. It landed in a train standing at one of the platforms and was only discovered two days later in ............   Cape Town!!  At approximately 956 miles it must surely the biggest six ever struck!



13. Another Roger Perry image on the western side of Johannesburg shows a 2M1 EMU leaving the city for Orlando and Nancefield. These trains worked between Jeppe and Nancefield which today forms part of Soweto.



14. In July 1940 the Allan G Watson – class 16E No. 858 was simmering at the head of train 432/3, the combined Port Elizabeth and East London express, awaiting departure from platform 1 for Bloemfontein. No. 858’s driver, keenly aware of Roger’s camera, will soon be on his way heading west as far as Langlaagte and then taking the turnout left to Canada Junction, Midway, Lawley, Evaton and Vereeniging before crossing the Vaal and onwards south to her home shed in Bloemfontein.



15. Back at the east end of the Station in the late 1940s, a 15F is leaving with 193-down – the morning departure for Durban.  In those days the fast train to Durban, 199-down, left at 3.40pm – later changed to 4.30pm.  15Fs handled all these duties as far as Volksrust until diesels and electrification took over in 1959 and 1964 respectively. In fact steam survived on trains 193/196 until 1964.  The Trans Natal (as 199-down and opposite number 192-up were renamed in 1960) was worked by diesels – classes 31 and/or 32 from 1959 to 1964.



16. In December 1940 Roger Perry found 16DA 872 at the head of train 432/3 just before departure for Bloemfontein from platform 1 – the engine would work right through. There is a vivid account of a footplate trip on a 16DA  during WW2 in Ransome Wallis’s “On Railways”. At this time Johannesburg was seeing a wide variety of steam traction – all the various 16th classes, 15Fs, 23s and class GM Garratts to name a few.



17. A Dave Parsons photo of the east end of Johannesburg with a 2M1 EMU on the left at platforms 7 & 8 and Hendrie Belpaire engines (probably 16th classes) on trains at platforms 9 & 10 and 11 & 12. Note the track patrolman greasing the double-slip in the foreground.



18. No. 858 class 16E, the “Allan G Watson” departing with train 432/3 for Bloemfontein.  Roger Perry’s shutter didn’t quite freeze the action but he nevertheless froze the moment in July 1940!



19. In January 1940 Roger photographed 15F 2916 at the head of a passenger train on platform 1 & 2 while a 2M1 EMU came in alongside at platforms 3 & 4. Imagine if Roger had access to modern photographic equipment.  In any event, we are lucky to have such rare images even if technically they are not the best.  In 1940 the German-built Fs hadn’t yet been fitted with smoke deflectors.  Note also the large, inclined Ross-pop safety valves – these were replaced after the War by four smaller Ross-pops at the highest point of the boiler.  When these inclined valves blew-off under a station canopy, bystanders could be guaranteed a shower of slimy wet soot.



20. In the early post-War years Dave decided to make a photographic record of trains at the old station while it was still possible.  Construction of phase 1 of the new station was already in progress and the Wanderers Cricket Ground, where many a memorable test match had been played, was already history!. Here is the western end with the milk depot and TZ dairy wagons that I referred to earlier on the right. Two EMUs are in this photo – one on the right at platform 1 on the right and if you look carefully another at platform 5 & 6.



21. A classic SAR photo taken in the late 1940s at the western end of the Station.  The 15F at platforms 5 & 6 and 16DA at platforms 1 & 2 both clearly have regular crews. The picture illustrates another point that is often misrepresented in references to Johannesburg Station.  In NZASM days the site was occupied by “Park Halt”.  Johannesburg’s main station at that time was actually Braamfontein to the west. When the CSAR Administration enlarged Park Halt to serve as the main station for Johannesburg it was named “Johannesburg” and NOT “Park Station”.  Colloquially it was known by many locals as the “Park Station” but this was not its official SAR name.



22. In 1946 the SAR brought its pride and joy out of mothballs and resumed the luxury express service between Johannesburg and Cape Town. The names Union Limited and Union Express were dropped – the premier train would henceforth be known as the “Blue Train”. Under this title it would become famous as a world-class long-distance passenger service.


In this SAR photograph a Braamfontein 15F is getting the Blue Train under way on its 956 mile journey to the Cape.  The 15F would handle the first leg to Klerksdorp where a 23 would continue on to Kimberley (after 1953 the 25NCs would run right through to De Aar). With the Blue Train’s introduction the mails were switched to other trains – a mail van would no longer appear in the 12-coach formation.



23. A class GM takes the cross-overs as it leaves Johannesburg with 1398-up, the Rhodesia Mail.  The leading reserved saloon and the dining car were SAR stock with the remainder consisting of Rhodesia Railways (RR) saloons in their distinctive brown and cream livery.  At Mafeking the reserved saloon and dining car would be replaced with RR carriages for the onward journey.



24. Platform 1 at Johannesburg in the late 1940s and another SAR photo shows a 2M1 EMU ready to depart with a 15F at platform 3 & 4. The beautiful station with all its style and atmosphere would soon become history!



25. In 1951 the main line west was electrified as far as Welverdiend – 60 miles from Johannesburg. Class 3E locos were assigned to work the top link passenger trains to that point from where a Klerksdorp class 23 (from 1953 a class 25NC) would take over and vice-versa.  In this SAR photo the 3E’s Special Grade driver shows by his posture that he was an old “steam man”.  Those men were highly experienced and only after many years of blemish-free service (usually more than 15 years) got to work the Blue Train and other passenger trains.  At night you could put your head on the pillow and rest in the knowledge you were in the safe hands of a master of his craft!



26. Late afternoon on weekdays this was the typical scene on platforms 1 & 2. Trains to the West Rand departed from this platform and here a 2M2 EMU draws in to load commuters heading home by train. In those days after WW2 the suburban trains to the East and West Rand were well patronised by those who worked in the City. The youngster in shorts on the extreme right of the photo could easily have been me – I visited the station every day in those years, rather to the detriment of my schoolwork.  Trains were more important!



27. The EMU at platform 1 was one of a few local passenger services that ran express in the late afternoons taking commuters home to the West Rand after work. On one of these services, departing at 4.37pm the train stopped at Braamfontein – then Hamberg, Roodepoort, Luipaardsvlei, Krugersdorp, then all stations to Randfontein – arriving at 5.30pm in 53 minutes for the 28 miles, eleven stops included.  Note the TZ dairy wagons on the extreme right in the bay platform of the milk depot referred to previously, their roof-top tanks and coke-filled sides clearly visible.



28. Dave Parsons took what could be one of the last photos of the west side of old Johannesburg Station just before services were transferred to phase 1 of the new station.  On the bottom left one can see the steelwork piled up for the construction. 


Even though the 1932 station had only been completed a dozen years previously, by 1944 it was clear that the existing eight long platform faces (theoretically 16 by doubling up) were incapable of coping with growth figures that were exceeding 9 million extra journeys/year.  The Johannesburg Council and SAR combined to commission Major-General G S Szlumper, former General Manager of the Southern Railway in Britain to advise them on the way forward.  His recommendation was to double the number of platforms by expanding into the Wanderers Sportsground, and this was duly adopted.


My gripe about the hideous new facility was not that it wasn't necessary but that it was so out of keeping with the dignity and character of the 1932 station.  The architectural style and idiom of the latter ought to have been followed in the new design which would have provided a structure truly worthy of the Golden City.