FRIENDS of the RAIL: Cullinan and Rayton
Departure Hermanstad: 08:00. Arrival Cullinan: Approx 11:15.
Departure Cullinan: 15:15. Arrival Hermanstad: Approx 18:15.
Times valid unless otherwise informed or advertised. Confirm ahead of travel. Arrival times are approximate and may be subject to operational delays.
FOTR's full-day steam train excursion to Cullinan and Rayton departs from FOTR's own private "Hermanstad Station" at 08:00 sharp unless otherwise advertised. Safe, free parking is provided on site. Please ensure that you know where our station is located and plan to arrive there at least 30 minutes before departure to check-in and locate your seats. We are allocated a pre-booked running slot and cannot wait for late or lost passengers.
The FOTR's Hermanstad station is a safe, private facility located in the Pretoria suburb of the same name. This heritage facility has been restored from what was once an old goods depot. Plenty of free, secure parking is available on site -- and we take precautions to ensure that your car will be safe with us.
Our trains are very popular and often fully-booked, so to avoid crowding in the coaches and prevent splitting up larger groups, we pre-allocate seats. After being directed to your parking, we ask that one of your party checks-in with our marketing people at a desk located on the platform, close to the shop which sells railway souveniers and memorabilia, as well as cool-drinks, tea and coffee.
Please do not board the train and simply sit anywhere. If you are not happy with your allocated seats, please talk to one of our volunteer train staff who will attempt to find alternative seats for you, if available. Please be assured, though, that we do not fill the coaches to their originally-designed capacity. We do leave a number of empty seats scattered around to give our passengers room to move and breathe!
Our journey normally starts off with the locomotive pushing the train backwards out of our depot into one of the busy mainlines at Hercules Station. We usually have to wait for a few minutes at the yard exit colour-light signal to allow the frequent Metrorail trains to pass by before we can cross over their tracks. Once out on the mainline, we will be given the signal to pull forward around a sharp curve to the right, pasing the PPC Cement factory, to head eastwards across the Apies River and through Capital Park, the site of the local Transnet locomotive depot and a large marshalling yard.
We travel at a leisurely pace (maxmum 60 km/h) so as not to tax the vintage steam locomotive and to give you plenty of time to sit back and relax, watching the trackside scenery go by. The outbound journey normally takes about 2.5 to 3 hours but, because we travel on a real operational railway, operational delays can occasionally occur. Please be patient if any delays do happen and understand that such delays are usually beyond our control. However we will do all in our power to get going again as soon as we can and we will do our best to keep you informed. Please note that at present there is major construction work taking place on the line bewteen Eerste Fabrieke and Pienaarspoort that may cause the journey time to be slightly longer.
Soon after we get under way is probably a good time to walk through the train to visit the "lounge" coach near the centre of the train where you will find a refreshment counter stocked with ice-cold drinks, munchies, and especially welcome on the cooler mornings, hot tea and coffee.
On our normal direct route, leaving Capital Park behind, our train takes you through the pleasant suburbs of Gezina, Villieria and Queenswood to meet the lines joining on the right from the Pretoria main station just before Koedoespoort station. Here, on the left you will see the massive workshops belonging to Transnet Rail Engineering; one of the largest railway workshop complexes existing anywhere.
Also at Koedoespoort, we join the route of the original NZASM railway, commisioned by Paul Kruger in the late 1880s to link Pretoria to Delagoa Bay (now Maputo). This link was intended to elliminate the old South African Republic's transport dependence upon the British-controlled Cape and Natal colonies. This historic railway line hosted both the escape and flight of Sir Winston Churchill from Boer custody and the final trip into exile of the Republic's president, Paul Kruger himself.
The line runs through the eastern industrial areas of Waltloo and Silverton before diving through Deneboom station and emerging into the first of many sections of the large Mamelodi suburb starting around Eerste Fabrieke. The track is being doubled here and new stations are being built to serve the many commuter trains using this section. We leave the last "informal" section of Mamelodi behind at Panpoort, where the railway climbs through a pictuesque gap in the hills up into the rural farming areas of van der Merwe (now marked only by an electrical sub-station) towards Rayton. Several farmers along this section keep game animals. Look out because, through here, bontebok and other antelope are often spotted amongst the cattle and sheep.
At Rayton station, we make a short stop to collect the "token" (an enscribed wooden train staff) that controls safe access to the 11 km-long Cullinan branch line. This branch is not signalled, so this simple device ensures safety by allowing only a single train to use the branch at any one time. No token, no go! At Rayton we also disembark any passengers who are going to resorts and attractions such as Getaway Farm in the immediate vicinity.
Onward to Cullinan
With the token on board the loco and the authority to proceed issued, its a gentle pull out, turning left onto the branch line which starts with a highly photogenic tight left-hand 180-degree curve. With the wheel-flanges squealing, our passengers get a superb view along the train towards the locomotive. As that curve ends, this is repeated on the right-hand side with a similar but shorter 90-degree curve. These curves form part of a 1960s deviation created when the mainline was upgraded, relocated and the Rayton station layout was completely remodelled. After these two curves we join the orignal alignment through the pretty suburbs of Rayton -- the old, jointed track rocking the train and click-clacking underneath.
This branch line was built in 1905 to serve the then new Premier Diamond Mine and the rapidly growing village of Cullinan. The line was never built to mainline standards so we take it easy through here: only 20 to 30 km/h. The 20-minute trip gives plenty of time to look around at the rural farming landscape.
Near Zonderwater we cross the tarred Rayton to Cullinan main road on the level, followed by a short climb up through a small pass before descending into Cullinan village. On the left just after the road, we pass the large "Somabula" private game farm on the left which has a variety of game animals that are often spotted from the train: kudu, impala, bontebok, giraffe, rhino, etc. The top of this pass was the site of a major ammunition depot taken into use during the second world war when the entire area was a large military logistical depot serving the South African troops in the East African campaign. Only a short railway embankment heading off on the left, almost hidden amongst the tress, marks its location today.
Finally, and all too soon, we bring the past to life as we drift over the road crossing into the old wood and corrugated iron-clad station at Cullinan, which although now leased as a restaurant, still comprises the original buildings and platform. Our steam train arrival in Cullinan is an almost exact recreation of how it was in 1905 when the line and station were built.
At Cullinan all passengers disembark to do whatever they wish or have planned. Lunch can be taken at one of the several cafes and restaurants (pre-booking is strongly advised for many of them) or you can picnic and braai on the free fires provided in the park just a short walk away. Transport for those who have booked to go to nearby resorts departs from here. Also, various forms of transport are available for those who prefer not to walk the few hundred metres into town or to the picnic area. Passengers may leave their heavy stuff, like blankets, coats and cooler boxes on the train. The train is manned and kept reasonably secure. Please do not leave valuable items though.
After pushing the train clear of the platform, the locomotove is uncoupled. Steam enthusiasts may like to watch as the loco pulls forward over an ash-pit to drop the accumulated hot ash and clean the fire. Photographers can get great close-up pictures of the red-hot ash dropping, water and steam spraying and of the crew busy with their fire-irons and rakes. When it is safe to do so (the crew must give permission and at your own risk) kids and adults alike can climb up into the cab for a close up look at the locomotive crew's "office" -- even sounding the whistle. In due course the locomotive will be taken a few hundred metres down the track to turn around on a triangle (or "wye" as it is known in the USA) -- the railway equivalent of a three-point turn. Good pictures can be had as the loco crosses the jacaranda tree-lined Oak Avenue twice.
The return journey
We are normally scheduled to leave Cullinan at 15:15 sharp for the return to Hermanstad where we usually arrive between about 17:45 and 18:15. Please aim to be at the station and on the train about 15 minutes before departure. No roster is taken and we cannot wait for late passengers.
Unfortunately all arrival times are approximate. We cannot guarantee timings because of the possibility of unexpected en-route operational delays, over which we often have absolutely no control, so please allow for that in your planning. Remember to bring a warm wrap for the cool autumn and winter evenings and ensure you have sufficient baby requisites available for the evening feed if we are delayed.
Now that you have read about it, we invite you to join us and experience the real thing!
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