17 June 2009

Klipplaat, Eastern Cape, SAR Class 15AR No 1840

A HDR rendering of the lonely SAR Class 15AR No 1840 at Kliplaat. Photo by Piet Conradie taken on 25 Aug 2009 at noon.

Another HDR photo of the same engine.

In the heyday of railways in South Africa, Klipplaat was an important railway junction, being the point at which the main Cape Town to Port Elizabeth line branched off towards Graaff-Reinet. Sadly those days have passed and Klipplaat has become a quiet little place.

28 Sept 2007 photo by Jean as posted on Flickr

The railway from Uitenhage goes over a dusty plain before reaching the Eastern Cape town named Klipplaat. The Afrikaans name stems from the many vertical rocky formations in the area. Over the years the railway junction developed in an important railway centre, and the town grew with it. In 1979 dieselation caused many of the railway personal to be relocated and several businesses in town had to close down. The town started to die. In 2001 the line to Graaff Reinet was also closed and Klipplaat was no more a junction to carry traffic to Middelburg and Noupoort across the Lootsberg pass. Subsequently the station was demolished by vandals - even the cables were dug out of the ground. The lonely Class 15AR rusting away just adds to the feeling of desolation.

Background Note: Trouble has been coming down the tracks for some time. About 20 years ago the South African railway system reached almost every corner of the land. In 100 years from the opening of the first railway, from Durban to Point, in 1860, 21000km of railway were built in the country. About half the system comprised rural branch lines to farming communities. Some of the branch lines were viable, others, built to please country voters, were hopelessly unprofitable and expensive to maintain and operate. In 1993 Spoornet began shedding its loss-making railways. The agricultural branches in the Cape midlands were the first to go, with eight lines closed at the stroke of a pen. More lines have been closed since. Country stations were demolished to deter squatters, staff were deployed elsewhere or retrenched, and the rails were left to return to the earth. By 2003, the network of what Spoornet called “light density lines” numbered 9 600km, of which just 5 000km was considered economically viable. Spoornet, and its new incarnation, Transnet Freight Rail, have responded awkwardly to the problem of what to do with the unwanted branch lines. Proposals to concession or privatise them have, so far, come to nothing. Instead, in what De Villiers calls the “Transnet recipe”, the rural network has been allowed to slip away. “If they have an unprofitable line, they reduce the maintenance, and then declare it unsafe,” he says. Source: Paul Ash as published on Feb 09, 2009, in this article in The Times.

29 Sept 2007 photo by Graham Hobbs as posted to Panaramio.

Most visitors to Klipplaat are surprised to discover a lonely forgotten steam locomotive. Believe it or not, the locomotive is actually "stored" here for the Transnet Heritage Foundation Preservation. Doesn't look like much preservation at this time!

Photo by Piet Conradie taken on 25 Aug 2009. Comparing this picture with the 2007 one above, it is clear that the local municipality has cleared the growth around the engine to enhance the appearance of one of Klipplaat's tourist attractions. Well done!!!

Klipplaat used to be a busy railway junction - it is here that the main west-east railway line meets the branch line northwards to Graaff-Reinet and Middelburg. The actual intersection is a curved triangle of rails just outside town, designed in such a way that trains coming from any direction can easily turn onto either of the other two tracks.

Photo by Piet Conradie taken on 25 Aug 2009.

In 2009 the George-Oudtshoorn-Toorwaterpoort-Willowmore-Klipplaat-Port Elizabeth route is still in use, amongst others by the Premier Classe train. (Report here). These days the line to Graaff-Reinet is closed to traffic and abandoned, with rusted rails stretching away into the distance. The demise of railway traffic through the town has left Klipplaat poverty-stricken and desperate, with high levels of unemployment and crime.

29 Sept 2007 photo by Graham Hobbs as posted to Panaramio.

CROP of 29 Sept 2007 photo by Graham Hobbs as posted to Panaramio.

In this crop the locomotive's painted number "1840" can be recognized .

16 Dec 2007 HDR Photo by Anton Matthee

July 2008 Photo by Danie and Kobie

The Klipplaat engine is a regular background for bikers venturing into the Karoo. Unknown date and photographer - appeared in BIKE SA. Thanks to Mark Newham and Hennie Heymans for forwarding the picture.

photo: Jansenville - IKWEZI MUNICIPALITY - Klipplaat

This 4-8-2 locomotive is SAR Class 15AR ("R" indicates reboilered) engine no 1840. It was built in 1920 as works number 5956 by Beyer, Peacock & Co Ltd, Manchester, England.

The original Class 15 was designed as a large mixed traffic locomotive for use where grades and curvature were not so severe as on the coastal sections.

A HDR rendering Class 15AR No 1840 at Kliplaat. Photo by Piet Conradie taken on 25 Aug 2009 at noon.

No 1840 briefly reunited with her original number plate

15 June 2013: Photo courtesy Bruce Stamrood

On 25 June 2013 Martin Stramrood wrote me with these splendid images and story: I am an old friend of Charlie Lewis from Cape Town days. Saw your pic of the Klipplaat 15AR and my son Bruce and I made a trip this month to update what the old lady looks today. Funnily enough I bought the original number plate (1840) at Park Station many years ago and we easily bolted it onto the cab of the loco (fitted perfectly!). Naturally we removed the plate and brought it back home to Johannesburg. 

15 June 2013: Photo courtesy Bruce Stamrood

Photographically I like the way the driver is framed in the image above - Piet.

15 June 2013: Photo courtesy Bruce Stamrood

The improved Class 15A were continuously built between 1914 and 1922 by Beyer, Peacock and North British Locomotive Co. In total 119 of these fine locomotives were built. When later reboilered with a standard No 2A boiler both the Class 15 and 15A were reclassified as Class 15AR. In this form they worked in the eastern Transvaal, eastern Cape and the Orange Free State.

During the 1960's many were transferred to the Cape Midlands where they were used mainly on the Port Elizabeth-Klipplaat section, as well as the Uitenhage suburban. They were gradually being withdrawn by the mid-1980's.

A very near sister of engine no 1840 is no 1842 which is plinthed at the EPRFU stadium in Port Elizabeth.


  1. Hi my name Henry Booysen. Ilove the photo's taken of the old train it reminds me of the days it was stil running,but is there no way that the train can be restord/treated to even last longer as a monument.It would be a greate tourist attraction for the town.where are the experts on trains please help.

  2. Ja. This bring memories back. My father worked at Klipplaat. We lived there, did my my sub A, B and std 1 there. Cannot belief that things is looking so bad.

  3. I have the original plate from this train. Would any collector be interested?

  4. What a marvelous web page. I am not really into trains but after seeing this site I have a new appreciation. Originally visited site to see if any information on the earlier employees from say 1860 - 1909. Quite a few of my family were involved during these years. Does anybody know where I can get this sort of info. Main places are Klipplaat and Graaf Reinet 1860 to 1883 and then Bloemfontein 1890 to 1909. Surnames involved are McKinnon MacKinnon Birch Powell and Close. Interesting bit of news Mckinnon involved with railway in Isle of Mull and Powell manufacturers in London

    1. Hi there it is great to know of your interest in klipplaat and its history,indeed there are history of Mackinnon Birch Powell been recorded in book called The Cape Journal-Jansenville,Klipplaat&Waterford. Its a great book that takes you back in time.compiled by Westby Nunn.
      Regards Henry Booysen

  5. On the 28th July 2015 the first train consisting of 32 car carrier wagons plus dyno test car hauled by 3 x 34 class diesel locos ran through to Rosmead with great success and the line was reopened for traffic.This line will eventually handle all the traffic other than the heavy haul ore trains. Five new loops are to be constructed to cater for the longer trains which will use this route

  6. My father - Heunis Muller & his brother Christo Muller started in 1962 at Klipplaat Steam Yard. My fathers Engine was called Smokey. My parents stayed in Klipplaat, I was born in Graaf Reinet. My Mother grew up on the Railway farm my Grand father work for the RAILWAY OF KLIPPLAAT, He run the farm out side KLIPPLAAT - "KLIPFONTEIN" My Grand father was Piet Wagner. My Uncle Boetie Slabbert had a FARM 25KM FROM Klipplaat for Generation. "This was my world, not anymore" JC MULLER.

  7. My name is Johan Boshoff, living in Gauteng, grew up in Noupoort, lived there from 1965 (5 years old) till 1979. My stepfather was a "Baanmester" on the Railway and covered and rebuilt the railway lines from De Aar to Patterson and also worked on the Klipplaat line. Small railways stations or stop overs like Bletterman, Hanover Road, Dwaal, Karoluspoort, Noupport, Barrydeel, Carlton, Sherborne, Ludlow, Rosmead, then towards Graaf Reinett, places like Lootsberg, Pretoriuskloof, further to Kendrew, Aberdeen road, Klipplaat and the southeastern route towards Cradock, Visrivier and further down Golden Valley, Middleton, Kommadagga, Cookhouse (Kookhuis), All places where he stayed over sometimes for a week, then only returning the Friday evening, just to leave again on Train 119 (JHB-PE) on a Sunday, just to return on the Friday again. I sometimes accompanied him on the shorter school holidays to some of these places taking the bicycle with of course. Wonderful days, with lots of good memories. Can still hear the Steam train coming, and can hear when they drive over the 1st "knaldoppie" to warn them of the work ahead. If they ride over three, they had to stop, because then the railway lines were not safe to travel. Yep and the old man had to had a good reason if he stopped and delayed a passenger train. Still remember how he took out the old wooden sleepers (yellow and red - the Rhodesian Tigg) and replaced them with the cement sleepers (dwars leers). Can also remember when there was a train accident (trein het ontspoor) and the old man had to go and rebuilt the line and then jacked the engine or coaches back onto the line (spore). These days when I drive to George and Port Elizabeth, I sometimes still visit some of these small place, but this time with tears in my eyes, because I can still remember those Shiny Black Beauties with their shiny copper pipes (die werk van die Stoker), with names like Rosie, Millie, Liefie, Amanda,Jessica crafted in a shiny copperplate, just to name a few. It is really bad to see these old rusted engines and railway lines, especially remembering traveling on the Johannesburg - Mosselbay train, stopping over in Noupoort and then leaving at 14h35 the Tuesday afternoon, arriving George around 10h00 the next morning. Can also remember at Lootsberg where they had a special engine parked to hook (sometimes at the back of the train) to help the passenger train over the mountain. Wonderfull memories for sure.

  8. Hi there

    I used to do business with Martin Stramrood on the Blue Train. Have you got his or Bruce's contact detail for me please?

    Lars Nielsen

  9. Was the Baltic Tank 56R a train used in South Africa?