Nostalgic train trip to Simon’s Town

The historic passenger train, pulled by a steam locomotive en route to Simon’s Town.
Passengers enjoying the trip from the Foreshore to Simon’s Town in the train’s lounge.
Enjoying the trip, from left, are Belinda Day of Zeekoeivlei, Milla Styling of Camps Bay and Kate Theron and Jenny Day both of Zeekoeivlei.
Elizabeth Letsoalo and her daughter Rethabile, 8, from Parklands, said they were looking forward to having fish and chips in Simon’s Town.
The van Eck family of Durbanville said a trip on the train was the ideal family outing. Pictured from left are, Barnie, Alicia, and Rita van Eck.
William de Villiers and Billy Downer, both from Simon’s Town with Jenni and Peter Underwood of Muizenberg enjoying the ride.
Passengers taking in the fresh ocean air.
Steph Mellor of Simon’s Town with Ben Ndzoyiya of Cape Town.
Yolandie Grobler and Dinesh Moodaley of Durbanville enjoying the St James Beach huts.
Spectators in Kalk Bay.
Spectators in Fish Hoek.
The South African Navy Band welcoming passengers as they disembark at Simon’s Town Station.
Clare taking a well-deserved break at Simon’s Town station before heading back to the Foreshore.
The Genesis Music Foundation that tutors Simon’s Town School welcoming guests outside the station. Pictured from left are, Unathi Jali, Wade Fisher, and Anzio Sauls.
Ceres Rail Company general manager Rick Botha with City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for economic growth James Vos, and City speaker Felicity Purchase. Picture: Bruce Sutherland/City of Cape Town

About 300 passengers embarked on a nostalgic journey to Simon’s Town on a historic passenger train, pulled by a steam locomotive, last Thursday.

The inaugural explorer’s train trip on Human Rights Day, March 21, was the first time in six years that a steam train had graced the tracks of Simon’s Town.

Passengers boarded Clare, a former South African Railway locomotive, manufactured in 1948, now owned by Ceres Rail Company, at 8.15am at the Harbour Bridge platform on the Foreshore.

The three-hour train ride meandered through the northern and southern suburbs as it made its way to Simon’s Town along the False Bay coastline.

Clare caught the attention of locals and visitors enjoying the public holiday.

The streets and walkways along the train tracks in Muizenberg, St James, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek, and the shoreline between Glencairn and Simon’s Town were filled with spectators, phone in hand or waving as a puffing Clare made her way along the tracks.

Passengers eagerly stuck their heads out of the train to breathe in the fresh sea air and wave at spectators.

The trip could be tracked online and shared with family and friends via a link shared in a WhatsApp group specifically created for the group.

Elizabeth Letsoalo and her daughter Rethabile, 8, from Parklands, said it was their first time on a steam train and they could’t wait to have some fish and chips in Simon’s Town.

Rita van Eck of Durbanville said she was visiting her family from Estonia. She said it was the ideal way to spend “a family day”.

William de Villiers and Billy Downer of Simon’s Town joined Peter and Jenni Underwood from Muizenberg on the trip sporting their pink T-shirts which Ms Underwood had designed when the group participated in the Camino in Spain in 2016.

Sisters Belinda and Jenny Day from Zeekoeivlei enjoyed the day with their family. Belinda said it was like taking a “trip down memory lane”.

Ceres Rail Company general manager Rick Botha said sand on the tracks, Covid, and infrastructure vandalism had prevented the trains from travelling to Simon’s Town.

Before 2018 when trips had also been reduced due to the drought, the train had visited Simon’s Town twice a month.

Mr Botha said there are currently three operational locomotives, Clare, Bailey, and Jenny.

For most of her existence, Clare had been named Sarah-Jane after the daughter of Ian Pretorius, the former managing director of Atlantic Rail and the initiator of the train trips to Simon’s Town in 2010.

Jenny is named after Mr Pretorius’s late wife, and Clare is named after one of the owners of Cape Rail Company which owns Ceres Rail Company, and Bailey is named after the daughter of a co-owner.

Passengers were welcomed at the Simon’s Town station by the South African Navy Band and the Genesis Music Foundation and could enjoy the town’s historic charm on foot or via tuk-tuks.

The station had been cleaned and decorated by the Simon’s Town Historical Society and simonstown.com

The City’s mayoral committee member for economic growth, James Vos cut the inaugural ribbon declaring the train service officially back.

According to the Ceres Rail Company website, the first steam-train line in the Cape was completed in 1862, and ran from Cape Town to Eerste River.

A year later, the route had been extended to include Stellenbosch and Wellington, and gradually, a network of railway lines spread throughout the province, managed by Cape Government Railways.

At the same time, in the north, the Netherlands-South African Railway Company facilitated the expansion of the railway network in the then-independent South African Republic.

The Ceres Railway track was originally built at the turn of the 20th century, starting in July 1910, and was completed in May 1912. The line was built using second-hand material.