Umgeni Steam Railway is a Non Profit Company run by a group of dedicated volunteers. We are a Railway Heritage operation,operating on the last Sunday of each month with additional trains during school holidays. We cater for families who are looking for a relaxing train journey which takes you back to when daily life was not rushed and you could enjoy a relaxing train journey and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
In the early 1980’s concern was being expressed amongst local railway enthusiasts about the fact that much of the country’s rich railway heritage was simply being lost as the then South African Railways’ preservation policy encompassed only the sterile, static display of certain steam locomotives on station platforms around the country, and the development of a so-called “National Collection”, located near Johannesburg. Virtually nothing was being considered in the other centres and much of Natal’s valuable railway heritage was either being moved up to Witwatersrand or scrapped on site.
It was thus felt that, seeing as the national authorities were totally ignoring the local railway scene, by default it was up to the enthusiasts to try and save at least some of kwaZulu-Natal’s railway history before it had all disappeared.
With the donation of a small standard gauge shunting locomotive by Illovo Sugar Mill a group of enthusiasts from the Natal branch of the Railway Society of Southern Africa, formed Umgeni Steam Railway in September 1982.
Since then, other locomotives, coaching stock and goods wagons have been donated by various organizations, including the old S.A.R. and its successor, S.A. Transport Services, or have been purchased from scrap yards or other bodies. Certain items have also been received from the Transnet Heritage Foundation and other organisations on long-term lease-lend.
In June 1985 Umgeni Steam Railway was at the forefront of celebrations to commemorate the 125th anniversary of railways in South Africa. Seeing as the very first public train ran between Durban and Point in June 1860, U.S.R. organized a special train, consisting of eight pristine coaches, hauled by an immaculate 1892-built Dubs A Class tank locomotive to retrace the steps of the original trip. This train conveyed numerous dignitaries, including the Minister of Transport, General Manager of the S.A. Transport Services and the Mayor of Durban, as well as hundreds of railway enthusiasts. A further three shorter trips were operated out of the harbour for the public of Durban during the afternoon – exactly as happened on the inaugural day of the Point Railway.
Overseas railway enthusiasts, who travel the world in search of the last remaining vestiges of steam train travel, soon recognised the value of U.S.R.’s contribution to railway preservation by incorporating our locomotives and/or coaches into the itinerary of their expansive steam safaris. The use of U.S.R. assets and personnel, combined with the incomparable scenery and spectacular railway engineering feats required to conquer the tortuous terrain prevalent in the province, have made extended visits to kwaZulu-Natal an essential component of such tour trains. Although the Greytown and Cape-Natal lines out of Pietermaritzburg tend to be the most popular sections requested for such trips, U.S.R. has assisted with motive power and crews for national tour trips extending as far as Bergville, Underberg, Richmond, Port Shepstone, as well as an international tour that included Swaziland, Moçambique and Mapumalanga.
Today USR is still run by volunteers but has had to move base from Pinetown and Mason’s Mill, outside Pietermaritzburg to Inchanga. Public trains run from Kloof Station (Stoker’s Arms) to Inchanga – a distance of 25km – on the first and last Sunday of each month. Inchanga has a colonial station (Built in the 1890`s) 45 minutes’ ride away along the picturesque Old Main Line, as it wends its way through the Valley of a Thousand Hills. The line was completed in 1880 and is one of the oldest active railway lines in South Africa today, renowned for its 1:30 gradients and 90m radius curves. It also sports the country’s oldest remaining railway tunnel still in regular use. From a small beginning we now carry up to 600 passengers each regular running day, and up to 800 people on special trains such as Santa Specials over the Summer holiday period.
The rather infamous ejection of Mahatma Gandhi from a Natal Government Railway train at Pietermaritzburg station more than 100 years ago has been mooted as the basis for future railway tourism initiatives, which Umgeni Steam Railway wholeheartedly supports. There have been initial trips retracing Gandhi’s steps, undertaken for the national cricket teams from India and Bangladesh, as well as for the Indian Prime Minister.
Over the years U.S.R. has gathered a widely representative collection of locomotives, rolling stock and other railway equipment and must now rank as being one of the largest railway preservation operators in the country. Incorporated in this collection are approximately 10 locomotives, 50 passenger coaches and more than 20 goods wagons.
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