Nobody could have anticipated, that the iconic Outeniqua Choo Tjoe train would be uneqivocally halted by the June 2006 torrential rains that caused floods along the Garden Route and massive landslides in the Kaaiman’s Pass area.
The track along the extent of its coastal route was extensively damaged in several places and the cost of repairing it, ran into the millions.
The happy penetrating whistle that broke the tranquility of each day and signalled the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe’s familiar presence along its journey between George and Knysna, has been effectively silenced for several years.
It is only now we've lost something we've always taken for granted, that we realise how much it meant to us! The Outeniqua Choo Tjoe is sorely missed by lovers of historic train journeys here and abroad.
It ran this route for nigh on 78 years and became a vital part of the Garden Route's heritage making a considerable contribution to Cape Tourism. In its last years it transported over 100 000 passengers a year, most of them being foreign tourists.
Despite rumours and rumblings the railway line continues to deteriorate and the costs to repair it rise by millions each year that passes leaving it neglected. Loyal supporters have even created a ”Save the Outeniqua Tchoo Tjoe” Facebook page to champion their cause! Since late 2006, the train has run between George and Mossel Bay but Transnet, terminated that service 17 Sep 2010, saying its not part of their core business.
The Western Cape MEC for Finance, Economic Development and Tourism, Alan Winde re-affirmed whilst visiting Knysna recently that he is resolute in his commitment to reviving the Outeniqua Tchoo Tjoe service. He wants the Choo Tjoe transferred from Transnet to the Western Cape Government. This requires a meeting and agreement from the Dept. of Public Enterprises in the National Government. It is hoped that they will then find a new operator to work with them to restore this heritage train service.
The 3 hour 52 km train journey from George to Knysna gave passengers spectacular views of the Indian Ocean and Garden Route coastline.
Leaving George and passing high above the pretty coastal resort and popular surfing beach of Victoria Bay, the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe chuffed its way through several tunnels right on the rocky shoreline and over the stunning Kaaimans River Bridge to round the bend and overlook the beautiful Wilderness beach before coming to a brief stop at Wilderness Station.
The next part of the train ride took the passengers over the Touw River and along the Garden Route lakes with tantalising glimpses of luxury homes and holiday resorts intermingled with exquisite indigenous forest and breathtaking lake views, before crossing the largest lake, Swartvlei shortly before coming to a stop at Sedgefield Station.
The station had become well-known for its delicious homemade pies at the Whistle Stop Shop and there was just time to buy a few before the train continued on......
…..ahead lay…..Groenvlei - the only freshwater lake of the lake system, countryside and farmlands framed in fynbos and coastal vegetation, coniferous plantations, indigenous forest, Goukamma –the nature reserve and inviting Goukamma station.....
Facilities at both the Sedgefield and Goukamma Stations had been rented out to private individuals who had used ingenuity and opportunity to create successful businesses. Both businesses suffered severely when the train stopped running but they have managed to adjust to the tough circumstances and attract local customers and visitors alike inspite of the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe's absence.
on to......stately Bevidere and attractive Brenton-on Lake, shoreline suburbs on the Knysna lagoon ...... until the train crossed the spectacular Knysna Estuary before coming to a halt at the Knysna Station right next to the harbour. Passengers then had 2 hours to wander around or have lunch before they could enjoy the whole scenic journey again, in reverse, that is going the other way back to George!
In June 2010, carrying a banner and waving flags, a group of some 15 Sedgefield Walkie Talkies hiked from the White Bridge at the start of Knysna along the new road into town and out along the disused railway bridge following the track back to where it crossed the road near Belvidere and returning to our cars near the White Bridge, to celebrate the start of the 2010 Soccer World Cup and giving moral support to the French and Danish teams being hosted by Knysna.
Because of the risk of veld fires in an ecologically sensitive region, less attractive diesel locomotives replaced the steam engines during periods when conditions indicated their use could be a fire hazard.
When the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe ran it was possible to get off at any station along the journey where the train stopped. You could also just travel one way if you had access to other means of transport to return to the start or overnight in Knysna for a day or two and then return to George on an afternoon train. Tickets had to be purchased in George or Knysna however, as there was no conductor on the train and no opportunity to buy tickets at any of the stations along the route.
It is hoped by all who live along the Garden Route and many ardent lovers of steam trains that this magnificent part of the world will witness the resurrection of the illustrious Outeniqua Choo Tjoe train journey. However we are all aware that the longer it takes to restore the railwayline, the more prohibitively expensive it becomes and the less the likelihood we'll see it happen.
Friends of the Choo Tjoe is a non-profit organisation formed in August 2010 with the main object being the promotion of the repair and rehabilitation of the railway line between George and Knysna together with the revival of the operation of the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe steam train on this railway line....
There are 20 great train journeys to choose from amongst them are the Orient Express, the Rocky Mountaineer, the Glacier Express, the Indian Maharajah and the Pride of Africa. Viewing an ever-changing landscape from the comfort of your seat is surely the finest way to travel. When travelling by train, your journey is an integral and delightful part of your holiday experience. What you see from your seat is as much part of the holiday as arriving at the destination.
The Swanage award-winning standard gauge preserved steam railwayis located in Dorset with easy access from neighbouring Hampshire and the South of England. It offers a more intensive heritage steam and diesel timetable train service than virtually any other preserved railway. Visitors can experience a unique journey through six miles of beautiful scenery passing the magnificent ruins of Corfe Castle. Steam and diesel galas, Family events plus regular Evening Dining and Sunday Lunch services complement themed events such as our highly popular Santa Special trains during the run up to Christmas.