Vreni arrives at Park Station
Last Saturday, there was great excitement for small boys who are Thomas the Train addicts, as well as all big boys who have a secret (and sometimes not so secret) fascination with steam trains. My grandsons and their parents and I packed our blankets, camp chairs and picnic basket and headed off for Park Station to jump aboard a real proper working steam train to take us on a 2 and a half hour journey to the Magaliesberg. There was a mad scramble to get 2 small boys and a couple of fully grown late-sleepers up and ready to leave by 7.15 am. We had been told that the train would leave on the dot of 8 as Reefsteamers is slotted into PRASA’s [Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa] running schedule and so could not wait for late-comers. However no steam train was to be seen until shortly before 9. But somehow, although a bit cold and hassled and grumpy at having to rush unnecessarily, it was all forgotten once we boarded.
Toot! Toot! All aboard!
We were in the coach second from the front (pre-allocated) and by chance chose seats right at the front of the carriage where 2 excited little boys could run backwards and forwards between our carriage and the back of the next one, to a ‘secret hiding place’, (love the fertile imagination of little people) without disturbing other passengers and while we were able to keep them in full view. Sandy, a retiree whose passion for trains dates back to his first electric trainset given to him when he was 8 (and he still has it), volunteers for Reefsteamers and was our carriage controller. He turned out to be a font of information on steam trains and Reefsteamers. Thank you Sandy!
ReefSteamers is a private company which runs excursions to the Magaliesberg as well as to Irene on various Sundays during the year. Their membership comprises about 250 steam train enthusiasts from as far afield as the UK, Switzerland and New Zealand, some of whom buy scrapped steam engines in South Africa and have them restored by ReefSteamers.
When we got to Krugersdorp station we were able to get out and see ‘Vreni’ and ‘her’ workings. This as it turned out, was our only opportunity to do so, which is not usually the case – hence my lack of photos of Vreni . But more of that later.
Vreni was commissioned in 1947 and was one of the engines which pulled the Royal train during the royal visit in the same year. (ReefSteamers have several other engines with the oldest dating to 1895 and 1897.)
Vreni, previously called ‘Janine’ was named by a Swiss train enthusiast after his wife. Apparently every 5 years names are changed as people buy the rights to a name. This is a very important fundraiser for ReefSteamers. According to Sandy, names are sold for R80,000.
Running costs for ReefSteamers
Keeping the steam trains working is a very expensive exercise. For example, Reefsteamers pay PRASA R15,000 per return trip for the use of the railway line from their starting point at the Germiston depot, to Krugersdorp. From Krugersdorp to Magaliesberg the line is run by Transnet and so a further R10,000 is paid for this return trip. 14 tons of coal is loaded to fuel Vreni’s trip from Germiston to Magaliesberg and back, as well as 44,000 litres of water for the outgoing trip and 33,000 litres for the return trip. With an engine that weighs 10 tons and 9 or 10 carriages that weigh 10 tons each, it makes sense that it needs a heck of a lot of fuel and water to power this amazing machine. And the coal fires get lit a full 24 hours before departure – that’s how long it takes to get the power levels up. Given all these expenses I think the trip costs are extremely reasonable: a family special for 2 adults and 2 children costs R900 for the Magaliesberg trip and R850 for the Irene trip.
And the unthinkable happened
After a quick stop at Krugersdorp, we changed pilots, from a PRASA employee to a Transnet employee. These pilots are there to see that the rules of the railway of the managing institution are obeyed and adhered to and, as it turned out, thank heavens they are on board.
And off we went again. We heard the tooting of Vreni’s whistle but did not think much of it, even when we came to a halt- it was not our first unexpected stop. There was a call over the loud speaker for the paramedics to come to the lounge coach but it was only when Sandi reported that a car had collided with the train, that we realized the seriousness of the situation. I’ll let Mark the paramedic on the train tell the rest of the story. Click to read his story and see his video. As passengers we were saddened and shocked by the tragedy and did not know the details of injuries etc. However, it seems from Mark’s post that the miraculous happened and all occupants are alive with only one sustaining serious injuries.
So instead of being collected by buses at the Magaliesberg train station, we had to leave Vreni and her 10 coaches while police and Transnet completed their case docket, and wait for our buses to collect us (some 400 passengers) at the scene of the accident – well some 600 meters beyond where Vreni had finally come to a halt. Bringing some 500 tons of moving machinery to a halt is not done quickly.
We climbed off the buses at Sleepy River at around 1pm. Love the name – and that’s just how the adults felt after a delicious lunch of cheeses and charcuterie and the best baguette in Joburg from the Pattisserie in Blairgowrie washed down with a couple of glasses of cold beer. Once refuelled the small people ran around like Duracell bunnies – climbing jungle gyms, bouncing on jumping castles and playing in the sandpit. There are braai facilities and a kiosk where they sell drinks and ice creams, as well as wood and ice. Make sure to take costumes in summer as there’s a pool.
Future dates for the Magaliesberg trips are 23/09; 07/10; 25/11; 09/12 and for Irene : tomorrow 02/09; 30/09; 4/11; 02/12 . My recommendation if you have young children would be to take the train trip to Irene. It leaves from Rhodesfield station and it’s only 45 minutes. Plus you can then visit the Irene market and the dairy farm. It is a bit more manageable time-wise with little ones.
This is a really fun outing for adults and kids alike and all at ReefSteamers need to be congratulated on keeping this relic of a bygone age going; and involving so many passionate dedicated people. Well done!