Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “train travel”

Why I went off the Gautrain

When the Gautrain first began running between Pretoria and Johannesburg, I was very impressed by it, and thought it was the best way of travelling. It was fast, convenient, comfortable and reasonably priced. It saved the hassle of driving in traffic.

Gautrain at Hatfield station, Pretoria, July 2014

Gautrain at Hatfield station, Pretoria, July 2014

So if I had to attend a meeting in Johannesburg, and the venue was accessible from a Gautrain station, I took the train in preference to driving. This was particularly useful in the December holiday season, 15 December to 15 January, when the price of the buses and parking were reduced.

But then I began to notice that it was always costing me more than I thought it did. I would put enough money in the card to cover the cost of my trip and a bit more, so that the next time I rode on the train I could pay when I got off the train rather than when I got on. But when leaving the parking garage, the machine briefly flashed the remaining balance, which was always lower than I expected.

Eventually I got a printout of my last few journeys, and noticed that there was an extra R20 being added to the cost of every journey. The fare between Hatfield and Rosebank is advertised as about R49 in off-peak periods, but it actually cost R69.00, because  of the extra R20.00 being added every time. The reason for this extra charge is not explained in the fare tables.

So the last time I needed to travel to a meeting in Johannesburg, I added up the fares, parking charges, bus fares, and the extra R40.00, and it came to R160.00, and that didn’t look reasonable at all. I decided to go by car instead. The distance by car is 60 km, 120 km return. The cost of the petrol for such a trip is about R100.00. So without the extra R40.00 charged on the Gautrain, the fare at R120.00 might be competitive, considering wear and tear on the car and the driver. But R160.00 is not competitive at all, and if there is even only one other person travelling, travelling by car wins hands down.

One of the aims of introducing the Gautrain was to get cars off the overcrowded roads, but at those prices, there is no incentive.


Nine years of Notes from Underground

This blog opened with its first post nine years ago, on 28 November 2005, so I’ll look back on some of the highlights of the last nine years of blogging here.

When it started, Notes from Underground was on different platform, Blogger, and I was impressed with the east of posting quick articles. The very first post was a bit of an experiment to see what was possible, and you can see what it was about here: Notes from underground: Seek and ye shall find

I’ve lost touch with a few old friends, and so I’ve entered their details in a “reverse people finder” at:

Who? Me? Is someone (old friend) looking for you? People Search Finder.

I’ve subsequently found a couple of them.

One found me through my web page, which shouldn’t be too difficult. Another I found through Google — entering her name in normal search brought up too many hits. But I searched images, and wondered how easy it would be to recognise someone after 30 years. Well, bingo. Up popped an image, and my old friend had changed, of course, but was still recognisable.

That was before Facebook, and I’vw found Facebook a better way of finding old friends. but if your friends aren’t on Facebook, Who? Me? might be worth a try.

Quite early on, however, Google took over the Blogger platform, and began fiddling with the Blogger editor. I had been attracted to it by its ease of use for posting stuff quickly, but Google set about making i8t harder to use and reducing the functionalityy so that eventually I, like many others, moved this blog to WordPress. I left the original one up, so that links would not be broken, but nothing new has been posted there for the last two years.

Within a month of starting this blog it was involved in a blogging experiment. Two Christian bloggers, Phil Wyman and John Smulo, proposed a synchronised blog, or Synchroblog, where a group of bloggers would post on the same general topic on the same day, and post links to each other’s blogs, so that someone could read several different views on the same topic. The topic was Syncretism, and my contribution was an article which I had posted on a Geocities web site, since closed, but you can still see the article at Sundkler deconstructed: Bethesda AICs and syncretism

Abandoned places of empire: Ruins of an English monastery

Abandoned places of empire: Ruins of an English monastery

Synchroblogs became quite popular for a while, and there was one every month or so, with quite a wide variety of views. But eventually it came to be managed by a few people in the USA, who chose topices that were mainly US-centred, and a lot of the variety disappeared. Partly for that reason, I rarely participate in synchroblogs any more, but the main reason  for not participating is that there used to be a mailing list, with a monthly reminder, and those now organising the Synchroblogs disdain to use it, and without the regular reminder I simply tend to forget to find out what the topic and date are for this month. But it can be found out here. if one remembers to look, which I rarely do.

Looking back over the last nine years, some of the best Synchroblogs that I have participated in have been:

Not all blog posts are synchroblog posts, of course, and there have been other kinds of posts over the last 9 years. Still on the theme of the “new monasticism” is

Abandoned places of empire

and another post on the theme of abandoned places concerns the Metroblitz, the ill-fated predecessor of the Gautrain:

Trains and individualism

Other posts on trains seem to be perennially popular:

and, still on the theme of travel, our series of posts on a holiday trip around Namibia and Botswana in 2013, which covers three of our blogs, and so goes beyond this one.

A South African Train Journey

These are some memories of a train journey in South Africa in 1979. Train travel has probably changed a bit since then, as it was nearly 35 years ago. I was living in Melmoth, Zululand, and needed to travel to a church synod in Grahamstown. Most people travelling to such things went by air, but the travel allowence covered the cost of a second-class train ticket, and I generally preferred the more leisurely pace of train travel. Apart from anything else it would give me time to look at the synod documents.

Someone gave me a lift from Melmoth to Durban, and I got on the train in Durban station, which left at 7:30 pm on Wednesday 28 November 1979.

The train, like many mainline trains in South Africa in those days, was a composite one. The main destination was Cape Town, but there were some coaches destined for Port Elizabeth and East London, which would be shunted off at the appropriate places. There wasn’t a coach going to Grahamstown, so I got on one of the Port Elizabeth coaches. I would have to change at Alicedale.

The train was hauled by two Class 5E electric locomotives of 2000 horsepower each.

There were three other guys in the compartment, all railway people who had been to write an exam for promotion, and had come from Port Elizabeth — Christo van der Merwe, and Martin van Antwerpen, and another guy who consumed enormous quantities of cane spirit, and they all drank fairly heavily. I sat reading a book on wills most of the time before going to bed on the top bunk.

Thursday 29 November 1979

I woke up just before the train reached Swinburne, and went to a compartment in another coach, as everyone else in my compartment was sleeping. It was not possible to sit in the compartment while others were sleeping, as the back of the seat lifted up to form the middle bunk, while the top bunk was pulled down from the wall above it. Once everyone was awake and up the usual practice was to let down the middle bunks so one could sit, and dump all the used bedding on the top bunk, where the bedding attendant would collect it.

At about 6:00 we reached Harrismith, and I went out and bought a Coke. There was no dining saloon on the train, only a refreshment car, from which I bought a couple of pies, and the train went on to Bethlehem, and there they took off the electric locos and put on a steam one, a Class 25 NC Henschel. The NC, I think, stands for “non-condensing” — some of the Class 25 locomotives that ran in the drier parts of the country had an extra tender with a condenser to re-use the steam.

Henschel Clas 25 NC

Henschel Class 25 NC at Bethlehem Station

At Bethlehem there was some shunting.

Bethlehem Station

Bethlehem Station

The train from Durban and the train from Johannesburg arrived at roughly the same time, and the coaches from the Johannesburg train were added to ours. The train from Johannesburg went to Bloemfontein via the eastern Free State, and I had travelled on it about 20 years previously on school camping trips, including a pony trek in the mountains of Lesotho. On those trips we got off at Fouriesburg, where the station was six miles from the town, and the town was six miles from the Caledonspoort border post with Lesotho, where we stayed at the Wyndford Guest Farm. Back in the days of those trips (1957/58) one did not have to show passports at the Lesotho border.

Steam locomotive hooking up to the assembled train

Steam locomotive hooking up to the assembled train

Eventually all the coaches had been shuffled to their right places on the train, and it went very slowly up the rather steep climb out of Bethlehem. I remembered that from the earlier school trips, as the train went little faster than walking pace.

Henschel Class 25 NC detail

Henschel Class 25 NC detail of valve gear

I sat and watched the Eastern Free State countryside go by, and read Ben Temkin’s biography of Gatsha Buthelezi, and we reached Modderpoort about 3:00. There were several steam locomotives there, though they had disappeared almost entirely from Natal, and they seemed to be getting fewer and fewer.

Henschel Class 25 Cab

Henschel Class 25 Cab

We had just left Marseilles when the train stopped, and it appeared that a soldier had fallen from the train, so we went back to pick him up from where he was lying on the side of the track, and then the train reversed into Marseilles station for him to be taken to hospital. He was unconscious, but whether from his fall or the liquor he had consumed beforehand it is hard to say. One could only say a prayer for him.

The long slow climb out of Bethlehem

The long slow climb out of Bethlehem

That incident delayed the train for an hour, and it arrived at Bloemfontein just after sunset, but there was a long wait at Bloemfontein anyway for shunting in to connect with the train from Johannesburg — the train was broken up completely, with some coaches going to East London, some to Kimberley, and ours to Port Elizabeth. There was a through coach to Grahamstown that came in on the Joburg train, so I moved my things to that. There was also a proper dining saloon, though it was now closed for the night. I was in a coupe on the Grahamstown coach, which I had to myself. From Bloemfontein we had exchanged the steam for a diesel locomotive, and went on south through the night, the second night on the train.

Diesel locomotives of the type that hauled the train from Bloemfontein to Port Elizabeth - at Alicedale Station

Diesel locomotives of the type that hauled the train from Bloemfontein to Port Elizabeth – at Alicedale Station

This part of the journey was of some interest to me, as my great grandfather, William Matthew Growdon, had helped to build the line. He came from Cornwall in 1876 and was a platelayer for the Cape Government Railways (CGR) and ended his career as a permanent way inspector stationed at Bethulie in the southern Free State. After retiring he went to live in Queenstown, but died in a carriage accident a few months later. On this particular trip, however, we passed through Bethulie in the middle of the night, so there was nothing to see.

The Grahamstown coaches are taken off the Port Elizabeth train at Alicedale, and hooked to the back of a goods train

The Grahamstown coaches are taken off the Port Elizabeth train at Alicedale, and hooked to the back of a goods train

Friday 30 November 1979

I woke up with the train travelling through the Eastern Cape countryside somewhere near Cradock, and went to the dining saloon for breakfast, and sat with a chap who was a charismatic Anglican from St Nicholas in Port Elizabeth, and so had a long talk with him over breakfast, and then went back to my coupe to read the synod papers, and then had morning tea again in the dining saloon, until reaching Alicedale, where they shunted us off to make up the Grahamstown train, which was again steam-hauled, this time by a Class 19D.

Class 19 4-8-2 locomotive that took the train over the hills from Alicedale to Grahamstown

Class 19 4-8-2 locomotive that took the train over the hills from Alicedale to Grahamstown

The Grahamstown train acually went through to Port Alfred on the coast, and was a mixed passenger and goods train, with the passenger coaches at the back. There was another steep climb out of Alicedale, though the train did not go quite as slowly as it did out of Bloemfontein.

The last stage of the journey -- Alicdale to Grahamstown.

The last stage of the journey — Alicdale to Grahamstown.

It had turned cold and raining, and the train reached Grahamstown about 3:00, and Godfrey Ashby, the dean of Grahamstown and bishop-elect of St John’s, picked me up at the station and drove me to Kimberley Hall of Rhodes University where most of the meetings were to be held.


Trains and individualism

You find some really bizarre stuff on the web but this is one of the strangest I’ve come across yet – on trains and individualism.

Dagny Taggart Wept –

the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

This comes from an article by Paul Krugman Diminished Individualism Watch – commenting on something he wrote earlier about what someone called George Will wrote here: Will: Why Liberals Love Trains – Newsweek. I have no idea who George Will and Paul Krugman are, and I came across this series via theMiss Eagle Daily, a digest of tweets from a fellow blogger I follow on Twitter.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for George Will’s doubts about the usefulness of high-speed trains. The Gautrain is due to come into operation later this year, and it has been a pretty expensive exercise. It is supposed to provide high-speed connections between Johannesburg, Pretoria and the airport.

But I cannot help remembering an earlier high speed train attempt, the Metroblitz of the 1980s. It required an expensive upgrading of the existing line between Johannesburg and Pretoria — the one via Germiston. But by 1995 the train had been abandoned, and the coaches were lying, forlorn, vandalised and abandoned in a siding at Koedoespoort.

This picture shows the interior of the vandalised coaches. But a couple of years later most of the bodywork had gone too.

We rode on the Metroblitz once, when we had just bought our present house, and had to visit lawyers in downtown Johannesburg to sign some transfer documents. It seemed easier to go by train than look for parking in Johannesburg. But to get the Metroblitz we had to take a train from Sportpark in Lyttelton to the centre of Pretoria, because the Metroblitz did not stop at Sportpark. It went non-stop from city centre to city centre. It took 45 minutes, as opposed to the hour-and-ahalf of the regular trains.

Perhaps the Gautrain will improve on that. At least it has intermediate stops, and in places that people actually want to go to.

So yes, I have my doubts about high-speed trains.

The real problem with George Will’s article is not his doubts about the economic viability of high-speed trains; it is the ignorant ideological claptrap that surrounds it. As Klugman points out: Dagny Taggart Wept – “But anyway, it’s amazing to see Will — who is not a stupid man — embracing the sinister progressives-hate-your-freedom line, more or less right out of Atlas Shrugged; with the extra irony, of course, that John Galt’s significant other ran, well, a railroad.”

And then there is Will’s Orwellian doublespeak of the “war is peace and peace is war” variety, when he ascribe to liberals a desire to destroy individualism and promote collectivism. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of history would know that the rise of liberalism cannot be separated from the rise of individualism. Perhaps George Wills is not a stupid man, but if he expects people to buy this “wet is dry and dry is wet” argument, he is either remarkably ignorant, or expects his readers to be.

Passengers must please refrain from…

MetroRail, which runs the Thatcherised suburban commuter trains in South Africa, is having a problem with passengers who toss other passengers off the trains, and is thinking of calling in the army to keep order on trains.

Perhaps they need to look at a couple of remedies closer to home. For one thing, I think the MetroRail trains must be the only ones in the world that run with most of the doors open, and passengers leaning out of the doors, and even climbing on the roof to go surfing. Most commuter trains have a traction interlock switch to ensure that if the doors are open, the train stays put. If MetroRail checked the safety devices on their own trains, they might go a long way towards solving the problem.

But what started the rot was probably the amalgamation of the Railway Police with the South African Police that took place long ago, while the Nats were still in power. Ever since then, safety on the trains has deteriorated, until we have now reached the stage where nearly every week we hear about kids being killed because they were “surfing” the trains — riding on the roof, or passengers are being thrown off because they are foreigners, or scabs, or something.

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