Ricochet News

VIDEO: Iconic PE Apple Express steams afoot to run at end of year

By Marc Jacobson - Aug 18, 2017
VIDEO: Iconic PE Apple Express steams afoot to run at end of year

Plans are afoot to get the iconic and historical Port Elizabeth Apple Express on-line and running again by the end of the year, after the train last ran on the 26th of December 2010 – almost 104 years into its existence when the lines were originally opened to traffic and public in January 1907.

This last seven-year Apple Express drought, occurred when the previous operators were not able to continue their oversight of operations, due to the Department of Transport withdrawing their R1-million subsidy of incur into the running of the train.

The train was then left in ruins for the next three years until 2013, when Nerina Skuy, now CEO of the Apple Express, took over the train for restoration.

“I took over the train and evaluated what needed to be done, and for the last four years we have been on a restoration project,” Skuy told RNEWS at the first open-to-public steaming of the Apple Express last weekend.

“We originally had no locomotives in steam, we then got our first locomotive and we are currently two months away from getting our second one; we also had 17 coaches out of 19 that have been restored.”

“Of the 17 coaches, 12 have been fully restored, bodies lifted, under-carriages done – we’ve done everything, and it has cost us over R3-million,” Skuy added.

The steaming of the Apple Express, which took place at the Transnet Humewood Narrow Gauge depot, was the first glimpse that public had of the train in these seven years, and Skuy hopes to get the train running again by the time Summer breaks in November or December this year, but emphasizes that there is still some infrastructural work to be done in this course of time.

“We must look at the whole roll-out of the Apple Express heritage, train and tourism service, to be rolled out in sections or in phases, and for me, phase one will be up to the Van Stadens station,” Skuy said regarding the up-keep of the train’s railway lines.

“The only repairs to the line needed, are the repairs at Forest Hill, at the PE Airport and at the Walmer Links housing, which was washed away due to no store water drainage taking place.”

“There is some store water drainage being done at Charlo at the moment, and once that is done, the line will be re-laid, along with just general maintenance.”

“The actual line is Transnet’s responsibility and they are working hand-in-hand with the municipality to restore all the lines en-route, and we [Apple Express] are in the process of training all of our crew, and we will be ready to run by December if the line is ready for us,” Skuy added.

Skuy emphasized that she would like the initial running of the train to incorporate a whole day trip, with many experiences to indulge in, between the Humewood and Van Stadens stations.

“There are a lot of corporates and other people who want a chance on the train for a proper day trip, with a lot to see, such as the Slipper Fields, a lovely venue where we can get wedding guests on-board for weddings, and they are also prepared to have morning markets for us with picnic areas and various activities,” she said.

“The Slipper Fields being on a dairy farm can also be a day excursion for kids on how milk or cheese is made. Past this, there is the Witteklip stop, offering a restaurant and great mountain-bike trails, and we are prepared to accommodate bicycles in a wagon that travels with the train.”

“Then at the Van Stadens station, where we will turn around, there is a whole community that need our support, as they have the ability to offer us markets, arts and crafts, and we will be feeding into each other. That is what the railway line is all about,” she expressed.

She said that in this way for every trip, rural communities can also interconnect with the city in various ways, and while the train also runs through the Walmer townships, small businesses can then tap into the tourism attractions that the Apple Express will bring.

“The Apple Express is the only iconic tourism attraction in this region and is world-renowned, and we still get enquiries from people from all over the world every single day, wanting to find out when the train will resume its operations,” Skuy added.

Watch to get a view of the steaming of the Apple Express that took place, as well as comment from CEO Nerina Skuy.