South Africa 1983 - A Life Chasing Trains



My first visit to South Africa was in the late fall of 1983 traveling with George Werner.  Only a few years earlier Garretts were still hauling freight though mountain passes,  alnd most branches were still steam.  But by 1983 electrification had been extended so that steam was relegated to secondary lines and the big GMAM Garretts were running out their miles on the flats between Vryburg and Mafikeng.

Steam survived so long in South Africa for political reasons.  South Africa's apartheid policies were causing many countries to implement or threaten sanctions, and the government wanted to minimize dependence on imported petroleum.  Trucks and diesel trains burned oil.  South Africa had bountiful coal supplies but little or no oil.  The result was a three part policy: transport by highway truck was discouraged, steam locomotives would be replaced primarily not by diesels but by electric traction (electricity was generated with coal), and a "strategic reserve" of steam engines would be maintained should fuel not be available for the diesels. Extending railroad electrification was a slow process and the number of diesels was limited,  so steam filled the gap.

Electrification was pushed aggressively, and by 1983 the end of steam was in sight. It was time to go.  All the pictures in this gallery were taken in October 1983.