The Port Elizabeth Apple Express - Narrow Gauge Railway
The History of The Apple Express

History of the Apple Express

The "APPLE EXPRESS" as we know it today - a Historical Tourist Attraction - can be traced back to its revival on the 31st May 1965, when the Port Elizabeth Historical Society planned a trip for prospective new Members and, due to the demand, had to repeat this trip the following weekend. The South African Railways & Harbours (S A R & H ) then recognised the potential of this wonderful Narrow Gauge train and started to run trips to Loerie.

However in later years the railway ( now Spoornet) accountants, looked at this operation, only organising one train out to Loerie per month, and decided that it was not a paying concern. In March of 1993 it was decided that the train be stopped and the operation be handed over to a private operator. Various discussions took place with no finality reached. In the end Spoornet announced that "Alfred County Railway", from Natal South Coast, could run the Apple Express, but with a team of volunteers. Meetings were held in Port Elizabeth, volunteers enrolled and the first new "Apple Express" was organised and trains started running during the December 1993 / January 1994 holiday period. In all 14 trains were run to Loerie in that period, where Spoornet had only run 1 train per month.

Later in 1995 Alfred County Railways could not manage this operation further and withdrew. This was when the Apple Express Society was formed in August 1995.

At present the newly formed Section 21 Company is running the PORT ELIZABETH APPLE EXPRESS and is looking at reformation of the whole process now that agreements are being put into place with Spoornet.


The Company has a set of 20 Narrow Gauge passenger coaches, together with a number of Historical Goods wagons necessary for the running of the train, as set out by Transnet Heritage Foundation ( Museum Section of Transnet), not all the coaches are at present stationed in Port Elizabeth.

The oldest of these coaches being brought into operation in 1902, these were followed by 2 Guards/3-compartment passenger coaches NG 73 & 78 (1903 vintage) and the three `Victorian' Coaches No's NG 57, 58 & 59,  (1904 vintage) with beautiful wooden interiors and small 5 seat compartments, with a coach toilet etc. A number of the coaches were manufactured by 'Bristol Carriage & Wagon' in the U.K., (No's 94 & 99 in 1905) which ceased operations in 1924.
The youngest of the coaches was built in South Africa, at the Salt River works in Cape Town in 1931.

NG V-2813 was recently converted into a coach for the disabled with an exit and entry ramp, has space for 5 wheelchairs and has disabled person toilet facilities.

A breakdown of the coaches is as follows:-

NG No Class Manufacturer Year Status Notes
50 S-2 S.A.R. - Salt River 1912 For Restoration Ex NG 90,
52 L-4 Brown Marshalls & Co. UK 1902   Ex CGR 2
57 L-5 Bristol Carriage and Wagon, UK 1904 In Use Ex CGR 17, L-4
58 L-5 Bristol Carriage and Wagon, UK 1904 Restoration in progress Ex CGR 18, L-4
59 L-5 Bristol Carriage and Wagon, UK 1904 For Restoration Ex CGR 19, L-4
65 L-4 Hungarian Coach & Wagon 1907   Ex CGR 37
73 N-3 Boume & Marpet 1903 In Use Ex CGR 6
78 N-3 Metropolitan Amalgamated 1903 In Use Ex CGR 11
82 S-5 Metropolitan Amalgamated 1907 For Restoration Ex CGR 13
83 S-5 Bristol Carriage and Wagon, UK 1907 For Restoration Ex CGR 23
85 LS-7 Metropolitan Amalgamated 1907 In Use Ex CGR 32 S-5
94 K-2 Bristol Carriage and Wagon, UK 1905 In Use Ex CGR 26 T-2
97 T-1 Bristol Carriage and Wagon, UK 1904 For Restoration Ex CGR 29
98 T-1 Bristol Carriage and Wagon, UK 1904 For Restoration Ex CGR 30
99 L-15 Bristol Carriage and Wagon, UK 1905 In Use Ex CGR 31 T-1>K-2
100 N-5 S.A.R. - Salt River 1916 In Use Ex Usakos
105 L-13 Sachsische Waggon 1927 In Use  
113 O-2C Sachsische Waggon 1927 In Use Converted L-13
143 L-16 S.A.R. - Salt River 1931 In Use S-6> S-9> L-16(1985)
1050 V-2     In Use "Half Loaf"
2813 V-15   1969 In Use See info on Pictures

Originally Transnet Heritage Foundation ( T.H.F.) allocated the following Locomotives to The Apple Express Society, in 1995;

1.  NG Class 10 No: 61 Manufactured by Baldwin U.S.A. 1916.
  (At present taken over by Sandstone Railway - Free State for restoration.)
2. NG Garratt Class 11: No 54 Manufactured by Beyer Peacock U.K_ 1925
  (At present the oldest N.G. Garratt in the world, in original condition.)
  Needing certain small attention to return to running order.
  [Here funding assistance would be appreciated].
3. There are then 4 NG Class 15's allocated to the Company, namely;
  NG 15 No. 117, in need of restoration. (1938 vintage) manufactured by Hanomag, Germany.
  NG 15 No. 119, had been one of the operating team, reported to be in the best condition for restoration.
  Also manufactured by Hanomag, Germany in 1938. At present being restored.
  NG 15 No. 124, one of the operating locomotives, but now needing a major overhaul.  (1949 vintage).
  Manufactured by Anglo France Beige, Belgium.  [To possibly be restored with the necessary funding].
  NG 15 No. 145, earlier one of the operating locomotives on long trips into the Langkloof, now in need of
  major restoration, manufactured by Henschel & Sohn, Germany ( 1957 vintage).
4. Then the other Garratt types;
  NGG 13. No 79.  This was allocated to the earlier Society, but has never been used, needing a major 
  overhaul.  Manufactured by Hanomag, Germany ( vintage 1928)
  At present there is only one Class 13 running in South Africa.
  NGG 16 No. 131. This is the present operating locomotive, having been restored by the Apple Express
  Society in 1999, and responsible for all the steam trips - daily runs to Thornhill, the Great Train
  Race each year and numerous multi day trips into the Langkloof and Gamtoos Valleys.
  Manufactured by Beyer Peacock, UK (vintage 1950).


The Port Elizabeth - Avontuur railway line was requested by the Langkloof community to get their produce
delivered to Port Elizabeth and further afield. It was first proposed that this line be the conventional 3' 6" South African "Cape Gauge", but later reduced to the present 2' Gauge due to financial restraints with construction starting in 1903 and proceeding at a fast pace, in that `Tourist Trains' were run for the Port Elizabeth public as far as Gedult Rivier in December 1903.

The next major hurdle was the crossing of the van Stadens River Gorge, where the highest Narrow Gauge bridge in the world was constructed in 1904, at a height of 254 ft.( 78m.) above the river. This bridge is a major stopping point for tourists to view as the train slowly crosses over.

All in all the track to the top end of the Langkloof is 177 miles in length ( 283km.) making this line, now, the longest
working Narrow Gauge line certainly in Africa, possibly in the world.

 In 1913 there was a request from the farming community for the construction of the Patensie branch line, leaving
Gamtoos Station for a distance of 19 miles (30km.)

Recorded in the Herald of 25th Jan 2003 - "News from week ending January 24"'. 1903".

A Public Meeting was held at Hankey last Friday morning_ It was unanimously decided to approach the Government with a view to obtaining a branch of the Port Elizabeth - Avontuur railway line to Hankey, thus opening up the productive Gamtoos valley and assisting farmers to get their produce to the market The scarcity of obtaining means of transport is becoming more and more serious.

 On request there have been a number of multi day tourist trains run for Tourist Groups, over the years, either to the
far end of the Langkloof, at Avontuur, (283km.) or to Patensie, (111 km.) from Port Elizabeth.

Along this historical line there remain a number of the original corrugated iron station buildings, of that period;

Beginning at Port Elizabeth, where there is the small substantially built station building at Humewood Road Station (changed in appearance in the early years of the running of the "Apple Express") the original building still remains, together with the Steam Workshops across the sidings, (date unknown), now heavily vandalised and not used.  All the restoration work and daily maintenance is now undertaken within the Diesel Depot, with the co-operation of Narrow Gauge, for security purposes.  Then follows the original station building at Thornhill, (53km).
Further down the track is Loerie, Jeffrey's Bay Station and into the Langkloof, Assegaaibos Station and Joubertina Station (also a substantially built building).  Other stations and buildings along the line have, over time, been modernised.

PE to Avontuur Map

During the past years 1996 - 2001 the Apple Express has carried the following passengers:

  1996 - 1997 1997 - 1998 1998 - 1999 1999 - 2000 2000 - 2001
Trains Run 67 62 45 48 38
Pass. Carried 10 518 7 999 7 539 7 237 5 462
Average per trip 157 129 168 151 144

Compiled by Peter Burton - July 2004
Revised July 2006
Additions D Coombe

2007 Time-Table
[Subject to change]

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