|By DFA reporter Marianne Barlow
SPOORNET's decision to withdraw steam on the Kimberley and De Aar mainline as from this Friday, has been drowned by a worldwide outcry of disappointment and objection from railway enthusiasts and travel companies.
Northern Cape regional manager Marius van der Westhuyzen, defended
the decision as necessary due to prevailing drought conditions in
the region and the nearing winter which had created `unprecedented
`The steam mainline will be retracted until further notice - should the economic and agricultural climate stabilise, consideration would be given to return steam to its present status.
'Spoomet believes in the preservation of steam and is negotiating with other bodies and individuals to investigate the possibility of attracting companies or interested parties to exploit steam working on the mentioned line in the future,' he said.
Mr Van der Westhuyzen said the drought compelled Spoornet to take `drastic action' on the steam mainline between Kimberley and De Aar to `safeguard' the remaining veld and grazing.
The managing director of Croydon Travel in Australia, Mr Phil Asker, appealed to `everybody' to `bring pressure' on Spoornet to maintain their promise to sustain regular services - at the moment there are two steam trips between Kimberley and De Aar from Monday to Friday on a daily basis.
`At the steam festival opening in Kimberley on July 30 last year, Spoornet general manager Dr Moolman, gave the assurance that regular mainline operation of steam locomotives between Kimberley and De Aar would continue until at least August 1992.
`He said operations after that date would depend on viable private operation schemes being proposed.
'This was backed up by letters from Mr Van der Westhuyzen who said in a letter received earlier this
|year that steam would
continue hauling two freights on weekdays and on the Trans Oranje
until December 1992,' he said.
Mr Asker said his company, along with many others in Europe and the United States, had taken Dr Moolman at his word and proceeded to book group tours to Kimberley.
He said around 200 enthusiasts were coming to South Africa in late April purely to photograph and ride on trains between Kimberly and De Aar, prior to joining a special train operated by the Transnet Museum to the Northern Transvaal and Zimbabwe.
`We have 20 Australians who have booked and paid in full to come to Kimberley on April 22, 23 and 24 and another large group in July who will now be extremely disappointed and bitter at the breach of the promise made by Dr Moolman in Kimberley last year July,' he said.
Mr Asker said the Kimberley-De Aar mainline was renowned worldwide as one of the last high speed mainline railways worked by steam.
`Although Spoornet may see some savings in operating costs by using diesel locomotives, the general community has benefited greatly by the considerable influx of overseas railway enthusiasts to the area purely because of the steam operations,' he said.
However, local Spoomet spokesman Eugene Greyling, said although they will no longer continue the two freights on weekdays, trips can still be arranged in advance by tour groups.
Mr Van der Westhuyzen said steam locomotives will continue to shunt in and about the Beaconsfield mainly as a tourist attraction