(Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism)
Port Elizabeth – After operations were suspended in 2011, Port Elizabeth’s famous Apple Express heritage trail may be making a comeback.
According to a statement released by the Eastern Cape Government, a feasibility study for the Apple Express has been commissioned by the Mandela Bay Development Agency.
The study, funded by the Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, will look at the viability of the narrow gauge railway line that runs between Port Elizabeth and the Langkloof in terms of its potential for tourism, freight and passengers.
Apple Express stakeholders had originally hoped to resume service during 2013, with the reintroduction of day trips initially. However, a number of setbacks, including the torrential rains of October 2012, has delayed the process.
An earlier report also found that operating the train purely for tourists would not be financially viable.
This follows an announcement by the Department of Public Enterprises that it will oversee the introduction of “multiple private rail operators on the branch line network to revitalise the rail network” by March next year.
Public Enterprise Minister, Malusi Gigaba, stated in reply to a question in the National Assembly in November 2012 that Transnet Freight Rail intended to concession the narrow gauge railway lines in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Gigaba said a number of other branch lines in the Eastern Cape had been earmarked for concessioning including the Umtata-Amabele line, Sterkstroom-Maclear, Stormberg-Rosmead, the Dreunberg-Aliwal North to Barkley East line, the Rosmead-Klipplaat line, Alicedale-Grahamstown-Port Alfred line, and Barkley Bridge-Alexandria line.
Gigaba said timelines for these concessions “will be an outcome of the engagement processes with stakeholder.”
Before being closed down in 2011, the Apple Express travelled between Port Elizabeth’s Humerail Station and Loerie Station in the Langeberge on regular intervals, a two-hour trip.
The train was first established in 1903 and can be hauled either by a steam locomotive or a diesel locomotive depending on weather conditions.
The heritage route takes tourists past a number of picturesque locations, with the highlight being a short stop at the Van Stadens River Bridge, the highest narrow-gauge bridge in the world.
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