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20 November 1924 - the first train , railway line opening day Calitzdorp

20 November 1924 – the first train , railway line opening day Calitzdorp


The railway line between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp opened up a whole new era for Calitzdorp.

The steam engine on the Oudtshoorn to Calitzdorp line was a narrow gauge Garratt.

By the shape visible in the old opening day photo (right) it would appear to be a South African Class GB 2-6-2+2-6-2.

These engines were built to travel in either direction without the need for a turntable or triangle. However, Calitzdorp station did have a turning triangle – an arrangement of railway tracks with a switch or set of points at each corner to allow a railway equivalent of a three-point turn, to change the locomotive’s direction. Sections of this triangle were however tarred over with the upgrading of Station Road in 2016.


One of these Garratt engines (below), a Class GB no.1650, later renumbered no. 2166, was photographed in the railway yard at Voorbaai, Mosselbaai on 4 September 1997 (photographer unknown)


2-6-2 loco steam engine

2-6-2 loco steam engine


Maybe it was even the Calitzdorp original?

The sadly derelict railway line was built between June 1923 and November 1924 to connect Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn. This branch line would then join the Willowmore, Klipplaat line to Port Elizabeth enabling the movementt of produce and the export of ostrich feathers from the Little Karoo to Europe. The old line presents a faint echo of great promise and expectation for the then rather isolated town of Calitzdorp.



Calitzdorp station

Calitzdorp station

The 31 mile, 21 chain line is a narrow gauge track, sometimes known as “Cape Gauge’ being 3ft 6” / 1,067mm wide.

There are twelve sidings along the line between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp.

The estimated cost of the line was £167,000 but it was completed at £20,000 below budget at £147,000. The line was built by the South African Railways under engineer, Mr Bromley and his team.

The train journey from Oudtshoorn to Calitzdorp took two and a half hours and seven minutes on its opening day trip. With loading of produce at sidings along the way, future trips would take much longer.

Each return journey burned up four tons of coal!


steam engine rear edited 1The first regular train ran into Calitzdorp on Friday 14th November 1924 and the official opening took place a few days later on the 20th November. A long list of dignitaries gathered to enjoy the occasion.

To start with there were stories of frightened children clinging to their mothers skirts at the sight of the noisy black behemoth rumbling down the tracks – and how their fear turned into wails of terror as the engine driver gave unearthly shrieking blasts of his whistle in friendly greeting to those living along the way!

Nothing can tell of the excitement around the launch of this train service better than the newspaper report of the time

Oudtshoorn Courant 21/11/1924

 ‘facts about the line’

Construction commenced in June 1923. It was intended as a purely agricultural line. It was constructed therefore as cheaply as possible, light rails being used and no stations being built between the O’hrn station and the little building which nestles beneath the towering krantz at the entrance of the township. White labour was used almost entirely for the construction of the earthworks and the line stands as a monument of what is possible for the poor whites to accomplish. They worked, especially on the sections on the Calitzdorp side, well and expeditiously. The first regular train ran into Calitzdorp on Friday last 14 November. The length of the railway between C’dorp and O’hrn is 31 miles, 21 chains. Three big bridges had to be thrown cross the Grobbelaars, Wynands and Vlei rivers respectively. There are scores of culverts. The valley through which the train passes is thickly peopled so that it has been necessary to construct no less than eleven sidings two of which are only a little more than a mile from each other, two others only being  separated by a couple of miles while the remainder are from three to six miles apart. The first stop, Kansas,is reached after  twelve minute run, the next Armoed 6 miles 57 chains away after 24 minutes, while seven minutes suffice to arrive at Wanhoop (Hopeless) from Wynands River which is 9 miles from the O’hrn station. The Kruis Rivier siding, 15 miles out is reached after a 67 minute journey. The 29th milestone is passed at 9.31 and the next 15 minutes with stoppages, occupy a few minutes over an hour, the train steaming into the C’dorp station at 10.37 or seven minutes over the 2 ½ hours, The steepest gradient is 1 in 40, and the most difficult stretch is from Grobbelaars bridge into the O’hrn station.  The Garrett engine used – a new type – which has driving wheels fore and aft, with tender in front is capable of hauling some 400 tons either way. The maximum speed allowed is 30 miles an hour; the load is not to exceed 300 tons. On the special occasion of the opening this was exceeded. There is no provision for water between O’hrn and C’dorp, and none at C’dorp itself, so that the engine which is capable itself of taking some 1,700 gallons in its tank, has to draw its further supplies from a 3,500 gallon tank hauled there and back. Two tanks of supplies had to be utilized for yesterday’s great event. Four tons of coal are consumed in the return journey.


Yesterday dawned hot and sunny. From an early hour yesterday morning Calitzdorp was astir and people from far and near streamed into the village from all sides. It was shortly before  nine, although the train bearing the Minister of Railways was only expected at 11, that there were batches of two and threes making their way down the long tree lined section to the station and then shortly after, motor cars veritably made the old dorp hum with life.  The shops and offices closed at 10 o’clock and thus, at shortly before 11, practically every man, woman and child, except those who were engaged in preparing the lunch at the zaal, had repaired to the station.  Here there was a great throng, and they possibly numbered well over 2000 and were later augmented by some 500 school children and 350 others who had boarded the train from Oudtshoorn to Calitzdorp. The school children travelled free. There was a regular fleet of motor cars from Oudtshoorn and Ladismith. So that altogether there must have been quite 3000 present at the ceremony. The Minister of Railways’ special coach, Voorspoed, was immediately behind the engine, with half a dozen bogeys and guard’s van and as the engine hove in sight round the sudden curve in a deep cutting there was great excitement. The front coaches sped right past the platform and after the largest train that Calitzdorp will probably see for many years came to a stop, its human freight literally poured out. After several preliminaries the train steamed back whence it came and near the platform, Mr Bromley, assisted by another, suspended a bottle of champagne by ribbons tied on to supports on each side of the line. Again the train began to move slowly into the station but this time midst the loud reports of detonators placed on the line. Then gliding along at half speed – all eyes being fixed on the bottle of champagne (the sun had become very hot) the buffer of the engine crashed into the bottle, sent the pieces flying and the sparkling vintage was precipitated over the whole of the cow-catcher, the while the police and others got the crowd back from the very brink of the platform.” 

railway opening day menu - click to enlarge

railway opening day menu – click to enlarge.   Photo courtesy of Calitzdorp Railway Station



The newspaper report goes on in great detail about the speech given by the Minister of Railways, the Hon. C. W. Malan. Malan was the first Minister of Railways of General Hertzog’s Nationalist Party, (which won the election of 1924). He gave a lengthy, rousing congratulatory speech and declared the line open. The crowd thinned, but many lingered to watch the school children board for their free ride.


The Zending Bond did good business selling refreshments at the station and a sit down luncheon for 80 guests was hosted in the Zaal.




railway opening day menu - click to enlarge

railway opening day menu – click to enlarge. Photo courtesy of Calitzdorp Railway Station


Official group photo - unfortunately not identified. Courtesy Calitzdorp Railway Station

Official group photo – unfortunately not identified. Courtesy Calitzdorp Railway Station. Click to enlarge

The newspaper report also tells that :

“The personnel, who took the Minister’s train in, and who took some 600 children out at 12.30 as far as Kruisrivier Siding from the Calitzdorp station and back, were; Ticket Inspector Turner, Ticket Examiner Garner, the guard, S Burns. The driver of the train was Mr Billy Turner, who had been resident here for nearly 20 years, and is now shuntman; the fireman being F Gertenbach who will be the future driver of the train. One and all worked hard to make the day a great success.

Some 350 passengers paid their fares en route from Oudtshoorn to Calitzdorp.”

It was a wonderful, memorable day – heralding promising times for the little town of Calitzdorp.

A mixed train for both passengers and goods ran three times a week and extra goods trains ran when needed. In 1928 approximately 6 500 tons, mainly fruit and Lucerne for other provinces, was hauled and in a 1988 review this had increased to about 22 000 tons – a very modest amount. At this point cost recovery was a mere 10%.

No longer viable, the Calitzdorp line was officially closed to regular traffic on 31 May 1993.

Last ever steam train on the Calitzdorp line

Last ever steam train on the Calitzdorp line


There was, however, one last-ever steam train run from Oudtshoorn to Calitzdorp. This was a special Union Line day trip for steam train enthusiasts on the 13 August, 1997 – three months short of 73 years after the very first train travelled this railway line and just over four years after the official closing of the line.  The loco that day was a class 19D No 2753. This was also the last time a steam train used the Calitzdorp station triangle to turn around for its return trip to Oudtshoorn.


In 2001-2003 an attempt was made to rejuvenate the line with trolley trips in the so called Herrie Train’. A private entrepreneur in conjunction with Spoornet attempted to provide transport between the towns and boost tourism.  Unfortunately this venture was not successful and the line was finally abandoned and would then have been declared unsafe for any further traffic.

In June 2008 in an attempt to save South Africa’s branch lines – on which long list the Calitzdorp-Oudtshoorn line appeared – Transnet advertised for Expressions of Interest in Branch Lines. Strangely it had just prior to this made an announcement that responsibility for secondary tracks was to be handed over to the Department of Transport.  Nothing further has evolved.


Badshoogte windmill+water tanks

Badshoogte windmill+water tanks

There are no station buildings along the line between Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn and the now deserted sidings along the way from Oudtshoorn, are as follows :

Oudtshoorn      Terminus    (Oudtshoorn railway station)
33°36′39″S 22°13′9″E / 33.61083°S 22.21917°E           Junction with Mossel Bay–Port Elizabeth line

1     Kansa                 33°37′10″S    22°9′37″E / 33.61944°S 22.16028°E

  • First siding from Oudtshoorn
  • 12th siding from Calitzdorp

Kansa was reached after a twelve minute run by train from Oudtshoorn

2     Armoed           33°37′35″S     22°6′13″E / 33.62639°S 22.10361°E

  • Second siding from Oudtshoorn
  • 11th siding from Calitzdorp

6 miles 57 chains away from Oudtshoorn
24 minutes by train from Oudtshoorn

3     Wynandasrivier    33°36′54″S    22°3′36″E / 61500°S 22.06000°E
Estimated terrain elevation above sea level is 259 metres

  • Third siding from Oudtshoorn
  • 10th siding from Calitzdorp

9 miles from the Oudtshoorn station

4     Hoopvol 33°36′26″S    22°2′43″E / 60722°S 22.04528°E

  • Fourth siding from Oudtshoorn
  • 9th siding from Calitzdorp

Seven minutes suffice to arrive at Wanhoop (Hopeless) from Wynands River

5     Kerkrand         33°36′16″S      22°0′26″E / 33.60444°S 22.00722°E
Estimated terrain elevation above sea level is 265 metres

  • Fifth siding from Oudtshoorn
  • 8th siding from Calitzdorp

6    Kruisrivier      33°36′30″S    21°58′17″E / 60833°S 21.97139°E `
Estimated terrain elevation above sea level is 253 metres.

  • Sixth siding from Oudtshoorn
  • 7th siding from Calitzdorp

5 miles from Oudtshoorn was reached after a 67 minute journey

Middelpad siding

Middelpad siding



7    Middelpad
      33°36′40″S    21°56′44″E / 61111°S 21.94556°E

Estimated terrain elevation above sea level is249 metres

  • 7th siding from Oudtshoorn
  • 6th siding from Calitzdorp




Vleiland siding

Vleiland siding


8     Vleiland       33°37′10″S     21°54′11″E / 33.61944°S 21.90306°E
Estimated terrain elevation above sea level is 233 metres

  • 8th siding from Oudtshoorn
  • Fifth siding from Calitzdorp






Grundell siding

Grundell siding



9     Grundell       33°37′6″S      21°51′48″E / 33.61833°S 21.86333°E
Estimate terrain elevation above sea level is 224 metres.

  • 9th siding from Oudtshoorn
  • Fourth siding from Calitzdorp





10    Dongas      33°36′59″S    21°50′32″E / 61639°S 21.84222°E

Estimated terrain elevation above sea level is 225 metres

  • 10th siding from Oudtshoorn
  • Third siding from Calitzdorp


Badshoogte siding

Badshoogte siding


11     Badshoogte      33°37′17″S    21°48′9″E / 33.62139°S 21.80250°E

Estimate terrain elevation above sea level is 228 metres

  • 11th siding from Oudtshoorn
  • Second siding from Calitzdorp





Remhoogte siding

Remhoogte siding


12      Remhoogte      33°34′21″S   21°43′19″E / 33.57250°S 21.72194°E

  • 12th siding from Oudtshoorn
  • First siding from Calitzdorp





train sign edited +sm wm IMG_1265



Sadly this lovely historic train crossing sign
was stolen from its post in December / January 2016/17
Does anyone know where it is now?
Please bring it home.





Calitzdorp Terminus      33°32′21″S    21°41′8″E / 33.53917°S 21.68556°E

Bust day at the station Photo courtesy Calitzdorp Railway Station. Click to enlarge

Busy day at the station Photo courtesy Calitzdorp Railway Station. Click to enlarge