On May 29th , what may be the last country wide steam tour, visited Sandstone for a day of narrow gauge action.

After the debacle with the Rovos Rail/Railway Touring company tour in April when Spoornet cancelled all steam haulage within South Africa at the 11th hour, the future of the David Rogers led Steam Loco Safaris tour was in grave doubt. Luckily the tour was able to go ahead after the intervention of Reefsteamers Chairman, Elize Lubbe, who was determined that all the efforts of her crew, who were running the first week from Johannesburg to Ficksburg with no less than three locomotives, would not be in vain. Representations to the highest levels of Spoornet resulted in a green light just hours before the tour was to be cancelled.

After a number of trips between Ficksburg and Fouriesburg using a combination of 15CA 2056,25NC 3472 and 15F 3016 the tour group arrived at Vailima Siding at 05h45 on Tuesday 29th May in the full tour train hauled by 15F 3016.

Sandstone had laid on a comprehensive photographic programme for the day under the direction of Dennis Moore. Three locos were in steam, NG4 #16, NGG16 #153 and NG15 #17 with various consists that were mixed and matched throughout the day. As most of the group had visited Sandstone on a number of occasions it was decided to concentrate most of the photography on the Vailima loop and Pandora area using the NG4 and NGG16. The NG15 being limited to less steeply graded parts of the line.
A bonus shot was to have both the narrow gauge and 3’6” gauge locos together just west of Vailima siding which had never been done before.
In addition the Sandstone loco staff were joined throughout the day by a number of Welsh Highland Railway crews who were assisting Reefsteamers with their locos. They had been certified especially for the tour by Spoornet and included a number of familiar faces such as John Bunch, Andy Shaw, Dave Kent and Peter Randall from the Sandstone “Under African Skies” event of 2006.

The morning session was completed by lunchtime and the guests then enjoyed a good South African braai at the Waenhuis together with some good South African lager.

The morning had gone well but the requested black smoke that photographers love to see proved difficult to achieve as the export quality coal being used by the locos was burning too well and laying little smoke. Nevertheless many photographers quietly confided in the organisers that they preferred it that way!
Steam Loco Safaris always attempt to recreate the past and the various consists were made up to reflect the narrow gauge of the SAR in the 1970’s using fruit vans, ballast wagons, cattle wagons and limited passenger accommodation. The guests were thus treated to some varying accommodation.
Above: The Kalahari and No. 153 make for a wonderful photograph opportunity
In the past Sandstone used open wagons with straw bales for seating but this has now been disallowed by the Railway Safety Regulator.
The afternoon session used the NG15 with some spectacular climbs of Pandora Bank and the less graded parts of the Vailima loop.
15F 3016 brought the tour train to collect the group just after 16h30 and a number of shots were taken of the main line train in the sunset.

It will be sad if tours of this nature do not happen again and we await a decision from Spoornet as to the future of such events.

Nevertheless Sandstone will continue to provide narrow gauge action regardless of the outcome.