Sandstone Heritage Trust - Rail News

RN 276 - Who needs tourists anyway? - ED's blog - Railways Africa

1st November 2006


Transnet has done it again. Effectively, entrepreneurs running heavily patronised excursions have been told by Spoornet to get lost, with management officially confirming this week that no tour trains will run in 2007.

Four months ago there was an outcry when the railway cancelled a number of booked-out tour trains at a week's notice - trains which it had contracted to operate. One operator alone, Shongololo Express, had had 19 contracts cancelled by June. As MD Christian Gross pointed out at the time: "we contract with 391 tour operators in 27 countries worldwide. These are customers of South Africa as a tourism destination. Some of them are real big guys: DERTour of Germany held their famous Travel Academy for 700 participants only last December in Cape Town - for the 2nd time. They service about 21,000 travel agencies worldwide, and print dedicated Africa brochures of 184 pages twice a year - with 180,000 copies. Other big names include Thomas Cook, Kuoni, and the numerous brands of TUI, from various different countries in which they operate."

Spoornet's Molatwane Likhethe told the Citizen, which ran a front-page story under banner headlines, that Spoornet "had to take in consideration the constraints that a lack of resources had brought about and had taken the decision to rather focus on freight delivery."

Which does nothing to explain what is to happen when Shosholoza Meyl is shunted off shortly to the Department of Transport (DoT). Will DoT be providing its own tracks?

In June, the tour train operators were told that because of motive power shortage, locomotives could not be allocated to their trains. One operator - who stood to lose his hard-won livelihood - observed bitterly: "They should find a more convincing story. There are lines of locomotives standing at depots around the country. There are coal trains running north because the run-down Hwange colliery cannot meet Zimbabwe's needs, and petrol trains, and maize trains: largesse at the expense of South Africa while we throw away millions in valuable foreign tourist revenue."

Only the other day, 8 Spoornet diesels were sent to Tanzania. The railway itself boasted recently that 60 of its locomotives are at work beyond our borders.
And another thing. The government keeps repeating its commitment to getting freight off the roads and people out of cars and into public transport. This is a funny way to go about it.