Outeniqua Choo Tjoe – The Steam Engine That Can

Eugene Von Brandis MPP

DA Western Cape Spokesperson Development, Tourism and Public Works in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament

The month of September is celebrated as both Tourism Month and Heritage Month, and the month of October as Transport Month. The Outeniqua Choo Tjoe, as an embodiment of all of these, formed part of the presentation by the Department of Economic Development and Tourism to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Development on Wednesday, 12 September 2012, at the Western Cape Provincial Parliament.

As the last remaining scheduled steam train in South Africa, the Choo Tjoe has always been a beloved icon by locals, a feature of Garden Route Tourism and has enjoyed the vehement support of the now Western Cape Minster of Economic Development and Tourism, Alan Winde. The Outeniqua Choo Tjoe has not been in operation since floods in August 2006 severely damaged the tracks. The current cost to repair the damaged tracks are estimated at R250 million. Despite the train not being operational over the last six years, the Choo Tjoe still features on tourism signage both physically and online. This is understandable, as the Choo Tjoe departed from the Outenique Transport/Railway Museum in George and its route included the Kaaimans River Bridge – the most-photographed railway bridge in the world.

As DA spokesperson on Economic Development and Tourism in the Western Cape I support the continuous deliberation with Transnet to see this jewel of the Garden Route reinstated. Despite a cancelled stakeholder meeting in George (5 February 2012), Transnet CEO, Brian Molefe, did confirm in a letter to Min Winde (12 June 2012) that it was still the intention of Transnet SOC Ltd to transfer the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe rolling stock to a successful operator. Unfortunately, no suitable candidate was identified to operate the train to date.

I welcome the recommendations made by both Min Winde and his department for investigating the optimal use of the railway line and the Choo Tjoe. Their innovative suggestion includes options for its use as a tourist attraction, learner commute transport and even a carrier for the refuse removal of Plettenberg Bay, Knysna and George. I thank the Minister and his department for their commitment towards finding workable solutions and implore Transnet and the National Department of Tourism assist in realising this dream.

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