Sandstone Heritage Trust - Rail News

RN 268 - Down the Iron Road: Garratts - The Champion Artics

by John D. Blyth
The Biggest Garratt User: South Africa

Long before the Garratt arrived, the railways of South Africa condensed into one system. At the end of the Civil War it was named South African Railways, but with the decline of British influence, it was called Spoorne, and was no stranger to the articulated locomotive, with Fairlies, Meyers and Mallets all having been tried with some success. Unusually, two gauges have been used, Garratts on both: these were the so-called Cape Gauge of 1067 mm, and for some local lines, mainly in Natal, but one long one in the Western Cape and some in the former German East Africa, now found on the map as Namibia, 2 ft. gauge, 600 mm was used.


Lightweight Class GCA Garratt No. 2619 stands at Durban's Greyville locomotive depot in April 1960.

In excess of 400 Garratts were built for the Cape Gauge, and another 60 on the narrow gauge, whilst a handful were also built for industrial use, especially on colliery lines.

The first tentative trial Garratt, ordered about 1914, arrived and was an instant success; others with improvements and for various lines followed quickly. They were tried against the earlier artic and found to be superior to all, but some senior engineers were hard to convince, notably Col. Collins, who tried all kinds of oddities, and A.G. Watson, in whose period in office not one artic was built.
Out of all this I have had to make a choice! I have taken three 1067 mm gauge types of note and one example from their narrow gauge.

The GCAs: 2-6-26-2, 26 built in 1927-28
One of the numerous Class GMAM middle-weight Garratts, No. 4089 at Capital Park Depot, Pretoria, in April 1969.

These modest locomotives had an unusual advantage, that of bar frames instead of the then more common plate frames; the former are more rigid and so reduce wear and tear in such items as axle boxes. They had tiny wheels, yet they could ruin very fast, and so worked the passenger trains on the South Natal Coast line for many years; they also worked many minor but difficult branch lines inland from the Natal Coast and even later on they could be seen south of Durban on local freight trains. Some were sold into industry, but did not last long - they had paid for themselves many times over. My picture, taken as late as 1969, shows a GCA at the big steam locomotive depot at Greyville, Durban, now the site of the city's main passenger station.

The GLs: 4-8-28-4, 8 built in 1928
These magnificent locomotives were actually built as a ?stop-gap?! Electrification from Durban to Pietermaritzberg had been authorized early on but not progressed due to the first world war; by the mid-20s something had to be done to clear the traffic from the port of Durban up the formidable grades of the Maritsburg line, and the GL, designed by Beyer Peacock to specification by Col. Collins, were the result, a cautious two only being ordered, instant success resulting in a further order for six more. Electrification completed in 1938 the GLs were transferred to Glencoe shed in Northern Natal, where they worked coal trains from Vryheit over the heavily graded line to Glencoe, where three electric locomotives took forward the trains for 1,200 tons and sometimes more.

I reached Glencoe in 1965 and the electric catenary was up south of Glencoe, but just in time to see them at work, and fantastic it was too; for their final days they were sent to Stanger, on the North Natal Coast line, where there was little traffic for their huge power, and they were set aside. My picture shows No. 2352 in the Science Museum of Greater Manchester, the city where the GLs were built, a permanent salute to the great Beyer Company. Durrant?s book comments that in 1972 this loco ran to Germiston in the Transvaal for preservation, and that 8 years later it was rotting away. How lucky that some unknown person financed its removal to a site 6,000 miles away and its restoration, so well carried out!

The busiest of the Natal narrow gauge lines was centred on Umzinto, in South Natal. Here is E140, Class NGG16, one of the last Garratts built, and almost new in December 1966. This locomotive was one of the last batches.

Two classes in one: GMA, and GMAM, 4-8-28-4, built in 1952-1958
No less than 120 of these two almost identical classes were provided and if the 26 slightly smaller and lighter locomotives are added, a formidable array of power appears. Based on the pre-war GM Class, designed for light rails of 60 lb per yard, a light design was achieved by greatly reducing the water carried on the engine to a minimum, and operating with an additional 8-wheeled water tank wagon. The post-war locomotives have modern cast-steel bed plates in place of the earlier bar frames, providing a very strong basis. The additional 'M' denoted those which have had some baffle plates removed from the coal and water spaces, allowing extra supplies to be carried, but increasing the weight and restricting the sections of line on which the engines could work. The alteration could be effected quite easily and quickly and I suspect that many locomotives did not carry the right classification on their cap-sides! These were the last 1067 mm gauge Garratts to be supplied to South African Railways, and some had a short life indeed.

Narrow gauge Garratt, class NGG16; 2-6-26-2: built from 1937-1968
Almost identical to the NGG13 Class built from 1927, these were the most powerful steam locomotives ever built for this narrow gauge. They worked on all the narrow gauge lines in Natal and Cape Province, but not those in Namibia. The 1958 batch were to be the last Garratts built for a public railway anywhere, and in addition to some being sold to the restored Welsh Highland Railway, one of them in Texas is the only Garratt in all the USA!