Heaps on historical line

2018-01-30 06:00
Windblown sand piles up against a retaining wall and then cascades over onto the railway tracks.PHOTO: David Erickson

Windblown sand piles up against a retaining wall and then cascades over onto the railway tracks.PHOTO: David Erickson

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Suspended rail services in Simon’s Town have locals worried about the long-term impact on their area.

The railway line has been closed since the end of last year due to sand drifting across the track, and the closure is affecting residents, businesses, navy personnel and tourists, locals claim.

Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott says the sand on the tracks in the section of railway line Fish Hoek-Sunny Cove-Glencairn-Simon’s Town “has been a long-standing issue similar to Baden Powell Drive being covered with sand during windy periods”.

“Due to its proximity to the sea, this stretch of railway line is no stranger to the impact of spring/high tide and the buffeting of coastal winds. Periodic remedial work as a result of weather conditions (sand and/or seawater ingress) is invariably subject to environmental compliance.”

Up to 500 commuters rely on the peak hour service between the two stations, says Scott.

Simon’s Town Civic Association spokesperson, Merle Evertse, says the closure is affecting local businesses and residents.

“I had always hoped for one or two premier class carriages that would be more upmarket for people who wanted a safe way to travel from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town, as this is a huge tourist attraction in Cape Town,” she says. “I think if the above were in place, more people would use the train. With our roads being overloaded with cars, this could alleviate a lot of problems for the roads planning department as well.”

In addition, concerns have been raised that the lack of use of the station building may leave it in disrepair.

Simon’s Town Historical Society vice-chairperson, David Erickson, says: “There are valid concerns about not just the integrity of the station buildings, but the general infrastructure at Simon’s Town Railway Station. Even well before the station was closed to trains due to the sand invasion, there were clear signs of neglect.”

The railway has a strong historical link for Simon’s Town, Erickson explains.

“The construction of the railway extension from Kalk Bay to Simon’s Town took one year, despite the difficult terrain to be crossed. The first train to arrive at the new Simon’s Town Station was greeted on 1 December 1890 by the entire town.”

“The Simon’s Town Historical Society supports any initiative that will conserve the station buildings, for the benefit of future generations. Some of the buildings are underused or even unused – perhaps these could be repurposed to establish an exhibition of the history of the Cape Town to Simon’s Town railway – an added attraction for tourists and schoolchildren.

“However, it is of vital importance that the trains themselves are re-established and kept running reliably,” Erickson says.

“It is a great shame that the steam train (which used to run over weekends) has ceased the service to Simon’s Town because of the unreliability of the track. Also, the highly popular ‘edu-train’ used to bring schoolchildren from all over the Western Cape in a purpose-designed set of carriages, which were effectively travelling classrooms, complete with video projection facilities – but it has now been several years since this was last spotted in Simon’s Town.”

Documentation supplied by Erickson shows that the Simon’s Town Civic Association complained about the cessation of train services into Simon’s Town in 2010.

“This is hugely detrimental to a town that relies upon tourist trade, and it makes life very difficult for the hundreds of navy personnel and dockyard workers who commute into Simon’s Town each day.”

According to Scott, during rail closures the train service is replaced by a bus ­shuttle.

“As a State-owned entity, Prasa (and Metrorail) must procure contractors compliant with Treasury regulations and Prasa supply chain policy. The ingress of sand is being tackled two ways: in the short term the new contract would ensure the permanent presence of a contractor to clean sand off the tracks as soon as ingress starts,” she says.

“In the longer term, the redesign of the current wall will assist. This process is, however, reliant on due process to be followed with regard to environmental impact assessments and heritage ­requirements.”

Scott did not give a timeframe for when the sand would be cleared.

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