Getting trains back on track to Simon’s Town will mean kids from poor neighbourhoods up the line can again visit the historic town for educational excursions.
So says Cathy Salter, the curator of the Simon’s Town Museum, who attended a meeting, at the False Bay Yacht Club, on Thursday July 27, with representatives from the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), the Simon’s Town Business Association and the Ceres Rail Company.
The aim of the meeting was to explore the possibility of resuming train services, including the Ceres Rail steam train, to Simon’s Town.
Ceres Rail Company offers a return service from Cape Town to the Elgin Railway Market, as part of its mission to preserve and promote South African rail heritage.
Ms Salter said it was crucial to get the trains running as it was an affordable way for children to visit the museum.
Transport for pensioners who would catch the train for free on Tuesdays, from somewhere “up-the-line” like Retreat was also no longer available, she added.
The line had closed in December 2009, and the “intermittent” service since then had stopped weekly visits to the museum and SA Naval Museum by some 200 children using the Themba Edutrain and chaperone coaches. The chaperone coaches travelled with pupils and teachers on the train to Simon’s Town, accompanied by security guards to ensure their safety.
Metrorail and the Western Cape Education Department ran the Themba Edutrain to Simon’s Town for pupils from poor areas.
“Our problem is that children can’t afford to come to the museum by bus as it costs an absolute fortune,” said Ms Salter.
Last year, she said, a group of children from Bonteheuwel had travelled by bus to attend a talk at the museum on fynbos and indigenous herbs and they had then visited the beach to learn about rocky shores and sea animals.
“Many of these kids had never seen the sea before. One child who was 8 years old had already been shot. They come from Bonteheuwel, which is 19km from the sea, but they have never seen the sea. It’s 25 minutes by car to the nearest beach, but they have never seen the sea. Their only hope is to have transport to come to places like the museum where we can introduce them to all these things they have never heard about before.
“I’m very passionate about this and can’t understand that in post-‘94 democracy that the situation is worse for children.”
Prasa representative Keith Edwards said sand on the tracks remained a “big challenge”, and Prasa, with the help of the City, was looking for a permanent solution.
In 2018, the Echo reported that the line from Fish Hoek to Simon’s Town had long had to contend with a south-easter and sand. At the time, Metrorail’s engineering services manager, Raymond Maseko, said conventional methods of sending teams to manually clear the sand was not effective, and using a contractor and machines would not prevent a recurrence of sand build-up (“Sand removal a slow process,” Echo, June 7, 2018).
Mr Edwards said a shuttle service ran between Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town, but it was still using a Covid schedule as the pre-pandemic numbers of people who had used the service had not returned.
Mr Edwards said an inspection earlier this year had found the entire track between Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town had to be replaced. That job was expected to be complete by the end of October at which point, a train service could resume once a risk assessment had been done.
Prasa was also considering introducing the new Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) blue trains on the line, he said.
There were also squatters on the line near Wynberg, and Prasa was waiting for a court order to evict them, he said.
The Southern line, he said, was currently a “flagship” line as most tourists and influencers used it.
Ceres Rail Company general manager, Rick Botha, said it would be a boost for tourism to get the steam train running again.
Mr Edwards said he would “investigate” the suggestions made and provide feedback at a later stage. No indication was given when and if services would resume.