No 69 – NARROW GAUGE WORLD An enterprise unrewarded Dick Manton and David Payling look back at the short and ultimately disappointing history of the Alfred County Railway – a South African narrow gauge revival.
It is now more than five years since South Africa’s Alfred County Railway Company (ACR) was forced into liquidation. Its brief 17 years of life saw much innovation, both engineering and managerial.
The company had come into being in 1987 at a time when South African Transport Services (SATS, successor to SAR) had closed all four of its narrow gauge railways in Natal as highly loss-making. The Port Shepstone to Harding line had succumbed on 31 October 1986.
The leading influences in the rebirth were Allen Jorgensen, a transport campaigner, and Charlie Lewis, a lifelong railwayman and senior SATS civil engineer. In their view the centralised structure of SATS lacked flexibility and commercial competitiveness. Management was remote from the everyday business of running a train service.
To remedy this Jorgensen, as Marketing Director, was to be based within the key customer community in Harding. Operations would be directed by Lewis in Port Shepstone, the railway’s headquarters, allowing traffic to be based closely on customer requirements.
At first there was much local and official goodwill towards the ACR. The Minister for Transport was in attendance at the opening ceremony in July 1988. The local municipality funded the construction of a new Beach Terminus and restaurant at a convenient location for tourists.
The agreement between SATS and ACR allowed the latter full control of the railway, although the infrastructure, including the track and formation, remained SATS property. The ACR was, in a sense, a Train Operating Company, although crucially it was financially responsible for infrastructure maintenance. Locomotives and rolling stock could be leased or bought from SATS or elsewhere.
An early improvement was the replacement of the unpopular fixed-side Class B wagons with wagons which could be loaded
Left: No 127 (with cab plates from no.140) brings the Banana Express into Beach Terminus in June 2004. Main picture: In May 2005 no 127 (running as no 140) crosses the Mbango river outside Port Shepstone with a freight charter organised by Paton Country Railway, then running the railway. (Photos: Dick Manton) »
NARROW GAUGE WORLD – No 69