Written by: Gary Dolzall
The legendary route of South Africa’s steam-powered Outeniqua Choo Tjoe is coming soon to Train Simulator
The places and the names – George and Wilderness and Knysna; Eden and the Garden Route; Kaaimans River and Victoria Bay; and a steam train called “Outeniqua Choo Tjoe” – together they recall railroading, set along and through the Western Cape of South Africa, that achieved a legendary stature. And now, the famed route of the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe is soon coming to Train Simulator!
The Outeniqua Choo Tjoe was one of South Africa’s longest-lived and most famous steam passenger train services, traditionally operating between George and Knysna in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. Tracing a path between the Outeniqua Mountains to the north and the Indian Ocean to the south and stretching 67 kilometres (42 miles), the railroad from George to the harbor town of Knysna was constructed between 1924 and 1928 – and for eight decades thereafter proved a paradise for those seeking either the scenic majesty of South Africa’s Garden Route or the magic of its Cape-gauge (3-foot, 6-inch) steam railroading.
In 1991, the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe steam operation and its spectacular route was granted preserved railway status and was assigned to Transnet’s Heritage Preservation unit in 1993. Although steam locomotives had largely disappeared from regular service on South Africa’s railroads in the mid-1980s, the George-Knysna route continued to see steam locomotives powering not only excursion services but also its goodsand mixed train operations (which in the mid-1990s typically included two mixed trains and one goods train daily between George and Knysna). With the coming of the twenty-first century, the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe and its route were international celebrities, drawing more than 115,000 riders per year from around the globe.
Then tragedy – in the form of mother nature’s fury – descended upon Eden. In early August 2006, stalled low-pressure weather systems poured an estimated foot of rainfall over the George-Knysna region. The resulting floods washed away portions of the railway and caused a landslide at Dolphin‘s Point, within sight of the route’s signature Kaaimans River bridge. With the line badly damaged and closed from the August 2006 torrents, mother nature delivered another, final blow in February 2007 with more torrential rains further damaging the line. Sadly, the George-Knysna line was, at least to-date, deemed economically unrepairable. Beginning in April 2007, the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe steam operations were transferred to an alternate route, running between George and Mossel Bay, but this venture proved unsuccessful and Outeniqua Choo Tjoe steam train made its last run on September 17, 2010.
Thanks to the craftsmanship of Hermann Kühne and Johan Pretorius of Dovetail Games’ partner programme member Johansteam, the extraordinary magic of the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe and the iconic George-Knysna route is soon to be reborn in Train Simulator! Stretching from George (site of the Outeniqua Transport Museum) to waters edge at Knysna on a challenging, saw-tooth-profiled line, the upcoming Outeniqua Choo Tjoe route includes all the remarkable features of the famous line, from the towering Kaaimans River bridge to the reverse loops of Goukamma to the spectacular Knysna Estuary. Including passenger and goods rolling stock to re-create not only the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe but the line’s goods and mixed trains, the upcoming route’s trains will be powered by South African Railways (SAR) Class 24 2-8-4 steam locomotives that were designed by SAR Chief Mechanical Engineer, M.M. Loubser and constructed by the North British Locomotive Company in 1949-1950. Operating on the SAR’s “Cape gauge” trackage and weighing in at 147,000 pounds, 100 of the stylish Berkshires (SAR road numbers 3601-3700) were constructed and many remained in active service into the 1980s. At least four of the SAR Class 24 2-8-4s are preserved today.
To be sure, the upcoming Outeniqua Choo Tjoe route from Dovetail Games partner programme member Johansteam promises to recapture the extraordinary appeal of what was one of the globe’s most captivating steam-operated railroad lines, and the route will bring a truly unique – and utterly captivating – new railroading experience to Train Simulator! – Gary Dolzall ■