While Sandstone is world renowned for its 2ft narrow gauge railway, many supporters may not be aware that the first ambitions at Sandstone were on the 3’6’ gauge system. Sandstone first rail acquisitions were ex SAR GMAM Garratt locomotives from Randfontein Estates Gold Mines and much planning was undertaken to concession the Bethlehem to Bloemfontein line for operation by Sandstone for freight operation and rail tourism. 

Sadly this failed with objections from the South African trade unions who could not bear to see privatisation and economic use of the railway meaning they would have to work harder and earn their wages instead of overstaffing the national system. This unnerved the national operator, Spoornet, and all negotiations with Sandstone just fizzled out. In fact the privatisation Department, of the then named SPOORNET which handled concession negotiations, was closed overnight.

One of the prime movers within Sandstone for the 3’6” project was well known Railway and Preservation specialist , Geoff Pethick. While the loss of the 3’6” project was hard to bear at the time, it was 2ft gauge that ultimately was to benefit with the magnificent railway that exists to this day.

Throughout the 3’6” project Geoff Pethick worked tirelessly to take it to success and wrote a very telling article in October 1997 in conjunction with Wilfred Mole, “Where to private rail use in SA”. We are proud to publish this article 22 years later as an example of what could have been and is still relevant to what could be achieved today. In fact after the destruction of many parts of the national railway system during the recent Covid19 lockdown, it is interesting to see the first moves towards allowing some form of private access and operation on the rail system, primarily for freight but with hints for a revival of rail tourism of a more affordable nature than that presented by the current premium operators. 

No wisdom was evident when it mattered. Click here to read more