Getting back on track

2018-10-15 15:50
Members of the Hilton Steam Heritage Association, Linton Hall and Conrad Kowalik, stand in front of one of the dilapidated steam trains. The association is making efforts to restore the steam train station and get one or two old trains back up and running.

Members of the Hilton Steam Heritage Association, Linton Hall and Conrad Kowalik, stand in front of one of the dilapidated steam trains. The association is making efforts to restore the steam train station and get one or two old trains back up and running. (Ian Carbutt)

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A mission to refurbish the disused steam railway station in Hilton is finally on track as a local non-profit body looks to get the iconic station back to its best.

The Hilton Steam Heritage Association (HSHA) has since 2011 been trying to restore the station’s glory but has hit several challenges. The association has in the last two years made progress, with sponsors and volunteers finally getting on board.

As volunteers prepare to repaint and touch up the small on-site museum, the HSHA have appealed for members of the community and those with expertise in the industry to join their cause.

The railway station closed in the early 2000s, and the station, museum and trains were left neglected and became a home to vagrants.

Important memorabilia was stolen from the museum, and components were taken from the trains themselves.

Today, the entire station as well as the trains are in a dilapidated state: trains are rusted and falling apart, unkempt grass covers the train tracks, and the museum — a corrugated iron structure — is rusted.

“Progress has been very slow because of a lack of funds,” HSHA vice chairperson Conrad Kowalik told The Witness. “Some sponsors have come to the party, but it’s not enough. We are appealing for further contributions from people to lend their time.

“We have a goal of eventually running one or two steam trains, plus to bring the museum back, and maybe have some shops here.”

Long grass and weeds on the track.

Kowalik said volunteers have began painting the museum structure, but noted it would be difficult to repair the station properly without input from more volunteers.

He added it may cost as much as R800 000 to repair one steam train, and it would also require skilled people to come on board to provide advice on getting them back in running condition.

“We appeal for further contributions, for people to come and help with the load and lend expertise.

“It’s impossible to say when everything will be done. But as HSHA, from a historical heritage perspective, we want to restore the station.”

The Hilton railway station. 

Hilton station was built in 1882 and is the only station of its type left on the original main Pietermaritzburg train line. Scenes in the film Cry the Beloved Country were shot at the station.

There are still two kilometres of train lines remaining, running towards Sweetwaters, and in the opposite direction 5,5 km of rail runs towards Cedara, which joins the current mainline running from Durban to Johannesburg.


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