Credits due to Errol Ashwell

We continue to receive criticism over the demise of the Banana Express at Port Shepstone. Sandstone has in fact has very little involvement with this railway over the years and in order to put the record straight here is a chronological synopsis of the history of this line.

The demise of the Port Shepstone to Harding narrow-gauge railway – and the Banana Express tourist train – is a long, sad, story. Here’s the short version:

Port Shepstone to Harding 2ft narrow-gauge railway opened to Paddock in 1911, and to Harding in 1917.
‘Banana Express’ tourist train started by SATS in 1970’s.
Line closed by SATS in 1986.
Line reopened by the Port Shepstone and Alfred County Railway company (ACR) in 1987, with freight and the Banana Express.
Freight operations ceased in 2001.
The writing was on the wall that ACR would not survive financially.
Hibiscus Coast Municipality and private interests (Not SANDSTONE) formed a committee in 2002 to ‘Save the Banana Express’ (and in particular to keep Spoornet from lifting the infrastructure).
Negotiations began with Spoornet for the local municipalities to lease the line, lock stock and barrel.
Concept was for municipalities to be the lease-holder, with a private operator.
ACR liquidated by Spoornet in 2004.
In March 2004 Ugu District municipality went out to tender for an operator for the railway.
‘The KwaZulu-Natal Railway Tourism Consortium’ (No SANDSTONE involvement) won the operation tender.
However, Spoornet then refused to grant the municipality a lease – so the years of work and the entire tender exercise became meaningless.
Paton’s Country Narrow-Gauge Railway began ad-hoc (month by month) operation of the Banana Express in December 2004.
Ad-hoc operation of the Banana Express halted by Spoornet in 2006 for safety and legal reasons.
Spoornet then scrapped the bulk of the rolling stock.
Luckily, SANDSTONE won the scrap tender on a transparent tender basis so the rolling stock items have been saved.
The ACR liquidator put various assets up for sale, some of which were purchased by SANDSTONE. These included three NGG 16 Garratts, Nos. 137,150 and 152, all of which were derelict and probably beyond restoration.
Mid-2006, private investors (Not involving SANDSTONE) and the Ugu Municipality embarked on a new strategy to go via the KwaZulu-Natal government to obtain from central government the necessary buy-in, permissions, agreements, and funding commitments.
This new strategy culminated in a meeting in Pietermaritzburg in mid Dec 2006, between Spoornet and the KwaZulu-Natal government.
Spoornet has apparently agreed in principle to lease the line, subject to a set of conditions being addressed now.

Will someone succeed in reopening the line before its centenary in 2011!

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