mechanically, their timber cargo being loaded transversely rather than lengthwise.
A major innovation was the updating of the 60-year-old NGG16 Garratt design to reduce running costs. Diesel locomotives were purchased to shunt the yards at the termini. A major financial gain occurred in 1992 with an agreement with Spoornet (successor to SATS) allowing steam haulage of timber to be replaced by hired Class 91 diesels.
In 1994 timber transhipment to Cape gauge wagons at Port Shepstone was replaced by the far less expensive piggyback transfer of loaded narrow gauge wagons to the pulp mills at
Umkomaas. Sadly, even this was not enough to achieve profitability and freight operations ceased in 2001.
The Banana Express tourist train, however, had won major tourist support. But from the mid-1990s official goodwill dwindled and, in 2004, Spoornet obtained a court order to recover its investment, placing the company in liquidation.
In retrospect the ACR was much more than a preserved railway. It modernised the potential of the railway to carry freight, although eventually road transport prevailed. Whilst the ACR had to pay some 750,000 Rand (approximately £75,000) per year to maintain its infrastructure, the truckers had the
Above: Alfred County Railway red livery was applied to Garratt no 140, seen with a block train of pulpwood, passing Aloe Ferox in bloom near Bongwana. (Photo: Allen Jorgensen). Map of part of Natal Province showing the Alfred County Railway and the neighbouring N2 Highway road. (Bruno Martin)
use of the adjacent modern N2 state highway. With only their road tax to pay they contributed just 15 per cent of the cost of upgrading this highway.
Road and rail users paid the same diesel fuel tax but that paid by the ACR went to maintain the road, not the track! Paradoxically, the ACR began to climb towards a viable future after the tribulations of 2001, when it became focussed on the development of the tourist passenger business. l
n The authors thank Phil Girdlestone, Allen Jorgensen, Bruno Martin (map) and Charlie Lewis for their generous help in the compilation of this article.
No 69 – NARROW GAUGE WORLD WORLD LINES
More information n The Alfred County Railway features extensively in a recent book South African Two-Foot Gauge by Hugh Ballantyne (Middleton Press, £15.95). This colour album also covers the 177-mile long Port Elizabeth to Avontuur line and other defunct systems, including Umzinto to Donnybrook, a tiny part of which now forms Paton’s Country Railway. A final section looks at preserved locomotives thousands of miles apart – on the Sandstone Steam Railroad in South Africa’s Eastern Free State and the UK Welsh Highland Railway. Detailed maps complete a publication that is highly recommended. DJ ISBN: 978-1-906008-51-2 www.middletonpress.co.uk
Above: In 1980 SAR days, Port Shepstone shed housed five Garratts. (Photo: Charlie Lewis) Right: The first NG/ G16A upgrade no 141 passes Hell’s Gate in Sept 1992 (Peter Bagshawe) Below right: In 1992 no 141 crosses a diesel-hauled timber train at Paddock. (Allen Jorgensen) Below: Floods of July 2008 took the Izotsha River screw pile bridge (Phil Girdlestone).
NARROW GAUGE WORLD – No 69