A Famous Train of the South African Railways
The “Union Express” leaving Capetown with 4-
ONCE again those travelling bags of yours will be in request this month, for we are to make an even longer journey than that which took us across the Atlantic to Canada, and yet further over the American Continent to Vancouver. Another of the British Dominions now claims our attention.
Over the 16-
This being Monday morning, the day of the arrival of the mail steamer from England, the South African Railway authorities have kindly sent the “Union Express” down to the docks to fetch us. Only on Mondays and Fridays does this famous train run. On Friday mornings it starts direct from the main terminus of the S.A.R. in Capetown at 10.45 a.m, but on Mondays from the Docks at 10.15, leaving the Monument Station, on the suburban lines, half-
In spite of my use of the word “crack”, however, we need not look forward to anything in the way of high speed. For reasons that you will appreciate presently, the overall time of 29¾ hours entails an average rate, stops included, of 32 miles per hour. On the return journey this time is cut to just under 28½ hours. Both figures are an enormous advance on the time of 44¾ hours that operated before the Union of South Africa came into being in 1910, since when unceasing progress has been made by the South African Railways.
Probably, before we take our places in the train, the track over which we are to run will attract our attention. It is possible that you saw the South African train when it was on exhibition at Wembley in 1923 and 1924; you may, indeed, have had lunch or dinner in its excellent restaurant car. But if not, your astonishment will be excusable when you find that you are to travel in vehicles that are slightly lower on the wheels, perhaps, but in length and width just as big as those to which you are accustomed at home -
Consequently it was decided to use a gauge of 3 ft 6-
Entering the Hex River Pass.
Despite this limitation in gauge width, the South African Railways now mount on their tracks locomotives of greater size and weight than the biggest in Great Britain. In all probability we shall find at the head of our train a powerful “Mountain” (4-
A coupled wheel diameter of but 4 ft 9-
Our train is made up of first-
There is a very busy suburban train service round Capetown, of which we shall see plenty of evidence shortly after starting. The busiest routes are those from the Monument Station to Sea-
Promptly at 10.45 a.m. we are away from Monument, on our journey northward. Soon we are passing Salt River, a busy suburban junction with a power-
The first stop is at Wellington, 45 miles out of Capetown, which we must clear at 12.3 p.m, 78 minutes after starting, the booked start-
And now, having topped the summit of the Hex River Pass, we find ourselves in the widespreading Karoo. We shall not at first be enthusiastic about the scenery. There is little stirring, and not much appears to grow. A lonely farm is seen here and there, and an occasional plantation, but very, very little water. There is no stint of sun, hour after hour and day after day, and the dry thin air will soon begin to invigorate us, even though the sun-
We have had two longish evening runs -
Along comes one of the train attendants and proceeds to transform the very compartment in which we are riding. It is a compartment by day and a bedroom by night. Comfortable beds are made up on the two seats, on each side of the compartment, and then there are let down, above them, the two side partitions of the compartment, making two upper berths. Our compartment now contains four beds, one for each occupant, unless we have been fortunate enough to obtain one of the coupé compartments, in which case there are only two beds.
What the “bedroom” looks like is made clearly apparent in one of the accompanying photographs. It is of the more interest to us in that in the autumn of this year three of the British railway groups are to introduce sleeping cars of this type for third-
So, for the present, goodnight! Things will be happening during the dark hours of which, doubtless, we shall be blissfully unconscious. We shall stop at Hutchinson, and then, at 2.40 a.m, in the very “small hours”, we shall reach the important junction of De Aar. From De Aar there goes north-
De Aar, 501 miles from Capetown, is one of the most important locomotive depots on the route, and it is quite likely that our locomotive will be changed here. The tractive power required for working over the Karoo is not so great as that needed in the climbing of the Hex River Pass, and our large “Mountain”-
Dawn has broken when we stop at Orange River. The dining car stewards have plied us with early morning tea, and we have washed and dressed and are feeling distinctly ready for breakfast when the “Union Express” draws into the famous mining town of Kimberley, 647 miles from Capetown. The time is 6.47 in the morning, and we have been 20 hours on the way. Probably there is no other piece of land of comparable size in the world from which has been wrung such wealth as from 200 acres at Kimberley. Four mines in this small area have produced, in 50 years, diamonds worth 255 millions sterling! The peerless “Star of South Africa” -
We get away from Kimberley at 7.2 a.m, and the going now becomes more brisk. The 45 miles from Kimberley to Warrenton are run in 74 minutes, at an average of 36½ m.p.h. Three miles beyond Warrenton, at Fourteen Streams, there diverges an even more important “branch” than any hitherto seen. It goes across the border into Rhodesia, and then north through Vryburg and Mafeking away up to Buluwayo. From there one can go by rail eastward through Salisbury down to Beira, on the east coast of Africa; or northward to the wonderful Victoria Falls, onward through Livingstone to Broken Hill, across into the Belgian Congo to Elisabethville and Bukama -
Johannesburg is drawing near, and evidences of the industry that has made the great city what it is are now around us on every hand. Great conical hills, like the china-
We are once again on a busy stretch of railway. We may well marvel at the size of the wagons used by the South African Railways for the carriage of their heavy mineral traffic. There are no 10-
The last 28 miles from Randfontein require 53 minutes, and at 4.30 in the afternoon of our second day’s journey we roll into Johannesburg. We can go on to the capital city of Pretoria if we like -
The “Union Express” at Johannesburg, with 4-
[From The Meccano Magazine, August 1928]
The cover of Part 36 of Railway Wonders of the World featured the “Union Express” leaving Capetown for Johannesburg.
The train is hauled by a 4-