Month: September 2011

1949 Orlando Train Disaster.

One of the interesting things about gravehunting is that often you find the graves of people who have been affected by a significant event. Often it is an event that you are not even aware of. While rooting through my images from Newclare Cem in Johannesburg I remembered finding a grave for people killed in a rail accident. 

At the time I didn’t really go into it, but recently, while considering trains that pass through cemeteries I decided to revisit the grave and see what was available on the internet about the incident.

I was quite surprised that I actually found a reference to the accident, although there is not too much information.
“29/04/2949. At the time the accident was the worst rail disaster in SA, and occurred when 3 electric trains, all headed in the same direction on the same track were involved in the crash. Two were stationary on a high embankment when the 3rd came around the bend and smashed into the back of the one train which then rammed into the train ahead of it. 74 Passengers lost their lives and more than 90 were injured. An investigation found that the block signal system was faulty.”
Orlando Station is on the Soweto Line, and I expect that many of the other victims ended up being buried in Avalon or one of the other Soweto Cemeteries. I do recall that when I lived in Mayfair during the 60’s, a train derailed just past Langlaagte Station, and it was a real mess, I don’t know what the death toll was, but it was a major incident. I seem to recall that there were tank wagons involved too. The coaches in use in those days on the “non-white” services were mostly the slam door suburbans which had wood throughout, and they would have been very crowded. I can just imagine what the scene must have looked like to those who responded to the disaster in Orlando.

A partly demolished slam door sub from the commuter trains in South Africa.

DRW ©  2013-2019. Images recreated 12/04/2016  

Toy Trains and things.

I am fortunate that I live just around the corner from The Rand Society of Model Engineers in Florida. Its not the sort of place I do visit often, but when I do get out there I am always impressed by what I see. This past weekend of 24/26 September they hosted  various SAR Steam Locomotives in a static and running display.  

To say that that the models were amazing would be an understatement, I had never seen some of the locos before and they did not disappoint at all. I think the star of the show was the very impressive 15F that was running. Its a huge model and is just like its real life sister.


The part that amazes me is how such a small loco can pull such large weights. Realistically the cylinders of these machines are not very big, yet they easily pull themselves, a grown man and the tender, as well as any attached rolling stock and their passengers. In fact, given how small some of the locos are, it is really astonishing how effective steam can be as a propulsion medium. Granted though, there is always the problem of carrying your coal and water wherever you go.


The other thing is, these models are not the sort of thing you buy out of a shop. The majority of them are handmade, and some take years to complete. The one model that was about 30% completed had already taken over 7 years to get there. And, once completed, you still need to get that boiler certified. No wonder the hobby seems to be dominated by older males. Youngsters come into it by inheriting their father or grandfather’s locos, they don’t sit down and make their own, unless they have a very highly developed machine shop and engineering bent.   

GF Garret.

GF Garret.

The other problem we have is that the pool of real live steam engines in South Africa is very small, so being able to build a model based on the real iota is often almost impossible because the real thing is no longer around. Fortunately model engineers are a very skilled group so they can still do an amazing job of recreating the real thing in miniature. All I know is, I really admire their talent, and am even jealous when I see those loco’s hurtling around the track. Yet I am fortunate to be able to see this, just think how many youngsters spend their days indoors glued to their playstations and computers and miss out on the heady smell of smoke and steam.
More images of live steamers that I have photographed previously at the RSME can be found at
DRW ©  2011-2018. Images recreated 19/03/2016

The Gautrain and Pretoria. 22-09-2011

Better late than never. On 22 September I had to go to Sandton. Everybody knows I hate going to Sandton. That traffic drives me completely and utterly insane. However, nowadays you can drop your car in Marlboro, and then catch the Gautrain to Sandton. I decided on this option, although a slight deviation via Pretoria would be made after my appointment. Twas supposedly car free day too, but the traffic, once again, was standing on the highway.

The Gautrain at Marlboro

By 11.30 I was heading to Pretoria from Sandton. I had already done the Rhodesfield trip before so wasn’t really a stranger to our own HST. It’s all slick and polished and a tad uneventful hurtling along at 160kph. I had been lucky enough to ride the Pendolino in the UK and that was amazing because of the traction motor noise. Gautrain is quieter.  In spite of all this the trip went smoothly, infinitely better than trying to dodge mad taxis on the highways and byways.

I had no real plan for Pretoria, in fact the original intention was to ride to Hatfield and then come back, but once we hit PTA I decided to head out to Church Square and check out the statues and buildings.  
Pretoria Station in itself is a piece of history, my last journey through here had been in 1981 when I was in the army. Today it has changed considerably, gone are the railway coaches and steam engine, replaced by security and unfamiliar signage. Its still a pretty building though, and well worth seeing on its own.

Stitched image of PTA Station

I passed the old Victoria Hotel, which looks so out of place. Its a wonderful old structure though, and was supposedly completed in 1895. 
Continuing up Paul Kruger Street, I came to Pretorius Square with its 3 statues and town hall building that is a magnificent edifice all on its own. A beautiful statue of Chief Tshwane fronts it today, and that gives it an almost ironic feel.

Church Square did not disappoint. Its a beautiful space, surrounded by historic buildings, trees, and dominated by Oom Paul and his 4 sentries. Sammy Marks probably would have approved at what his creation looks like, however whether Oom Paul would is another story. Paul Kruger seems to have found some sort of tacit acceptance amongst those who now use this space.  At any rate, the pigeons still enjoy visiting his hat. 

Church Square looking towards Paul Kruger

The Palace of Justice

The Old Raadsaal building

When it comes to magnificent buildings I don’t think you get any better than the Old Raadsaal building or the Palace of Justice. They are absolutely beautiful, and definitely make the square. Of course there are other buildings there that are as stately and from another age, but those two just crown them all. 

Then it was time to head off home, my mission accomplished. Looking back though, I should have explored the east side of the square, and taken more time to try find some of the other significant sites in that immediate area. 
I was fortunate to be able to grab the next train heading south and didn’t have a 20 minute wait. And, on the drive home from Marlboro the robots were all dead along William Nicol Drive. Traffic was backed up onto the highway for at least 2 kilos. Had I gone through to Sandton by car I would still have been sitting in traffic! Car free day my eye.

Gautrain at Sandton Station

The one final comment worth noting is that Gautrain’s biggest asset is its staff. They are really great and I just hope that they don’t go down the road of surely, unhelpful and apathetic.

May 2012: An update to this post. Since this was written originally, there has been a change of policy with regards to photography of the Gautrain, it is no longer welcomed and expect to be accosted by security guards if you haul out your camera. Apparently this was always the “policy” although when Gautrain originally opened photographers were encouraged. It seems as if the whip has now been cracked. My comment about the staff still holds partly true though, although some of the security guards are becoming very officious. 

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