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Steam Engines Scrapped in South Africa

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    Posted: Oct 01 2010 at 10:03am
South African steam locomotives scrapped following damage by thieves
By Paul Ash
Published: September 28, 2010

A priceless collection of steam locomotives has been cut up for scrap in
Johannesburg after suffering irreparable damage at the hands of scrap

The 27 locomotives, which belonged to South African National Rail and
Steam Museum, a nonprofit preservation group, were gifts from the former
South African Railways and various mining houses and industries that had
once used them on their private railways. The collection had been stored
on tracks on an open space near an industrial township west of

Some of the locomotives dated back to the late 19th century and included
sole survivors of their type.

Museum secretary Mike Dyke told TRAINS that visitors to the Chamdor site
two weeks ago saw thieves with professional cutting equipment torching
parts from the locomotives in broad daylight.

“Our own security people were chased away by scrap thieves wielding
firearms,” Dyke said. Police allegedly told the museum they could do

The museum is little more than a stretch of reclaimed mining land next
to a rapidly growing informal settlement.

Metal theft is an endemic problem in the country where unemployment tops
25 percent and much of the population lives in poverty. National rail
operator Transnet Freight Rail loses almost half a mile of overhead
catenary wire every day to scrap thieves, resulting in delayed and
cancelled trains as sections of the electrified network are closed for

Railfans, angry that the preserved locomotives were not guarded, said
the museum had been previously warned that the locomotives were at risk
from thieves. Dyke said museum officials had applied to government for
funds to build a wall around the site but had been rebuffed.

Following the reports that illegal scrapping was taking place, the
museum was quoted 25,000 rand (about $3,570) a day to place 24-hour
armed guards on the site. A survey showed the locomotives were too badly
damaged to restore; in most cases the thieves had cut the frames to get
at the valuable brass and bearing in the axle boxes, and museum
officials called in local recycling firm Reclam to cut up what was left.
“There was no alternative,” Dyke said.

At Chamdor, scrapping is proceeding rapidly. Amid the swirling dust and
smoke and the hiss of cutting torches, four guards with shotguns patrol
the site night and day, keeping the scrap thieves at bay.

“More than 40 guys ran away when we arrived, leaving all their tools
behind,” said Reclam Outside Projects Manager Mathew Spangenberg. “We
told them to come back at collect their tools. As they did so they said
they would be back later with 9mm pistols.”

The company expects to finish the job by Monday. “We are doing it as
quick as we can,” he said.

The museum plans use the proceeds to improve the security for other its
remaining steam locomotives that are stored at other sites.

South African rail preservation groups battle with shortages of funds
and volunteer labor, and many restoration projects are unlikely to ever
be completed.

“There are just too many locomotives out there,” said Chris Janisch,
chairman of the Heritage Rail Association of South Africa. “There are
enough resources to save a limited number. The rest must go, in the name
of saving the others.”

While rail tourism was growing business worldwide, Janisch noted that
locally rail heritage, with its colonial echoes, had become a political
hot potato that nobody wanted to handle. He said the association has
tried lobbying the country’s tourism officials. “But we can’t even get
an interview [with the tourism minister],” he said.

The scrapping debacle comes shortly after the Passenger Rail Agency of
South Africa, the country's state-run passenger train operator,
announced that it was suspending all long-distance passenger trains
pending a review of their viability. Officials there blamed the
suspension on a pricing dispute with Transnet Freight Rail for
maintenance work carried out on its locomotives and passenger cars. Some
25 trains were affected, including the semi-luxury Premier Classe
trains, which are popular with tourists.

Some train schedules between Johannesburg and the port cities of Durban
and Cape Town have been restored, while bus services have been
introduced on other routes.

South Africa once boasted a countrywide passenger train network until
sweeping timetable cuts began in mid-1980s. Since then, rail passenger
traffic has been further eroded by minibus taxis; cheap, long-distance
coaches; and the startup of three low-cost airlines.

PAUL ASH is a career journalist with the Sunday Times newspaper in
Johannesburg, South Africa. He writes about travel, transportation, and
agriculture, and in his leisure time, he kayaks and photographs
I used to be a rocket scientist, now I am just a space cadet.
You only need three tools in life - WD-40, Duct Tape, and a Hammer. If it doesn't move and should, use the WD-40. If it shouldn't move and does, use the duct tape. If you can't fix it with a hammer, you've got an electrical problem.
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