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The Cape Town - Simons Town Railway
 
BEGINNINGS

The Cape Town - Simon's Town line is not the oldest in South Africa. A short line between Durban and the Point opened on 26 June 1860. The Cape Town Railway and Dock Company completed its line to Eersterivier on 13 February 1862, continued to Stellenbosch on 1 May 1862 and finally reached Wellington on 4 November 1863.

The Cape Town - Wynberg line began in December 1864 and was built to the Standard gauge of 4ft 8 ½ in. When the line was bought by the Cape Government in 1873, the gauge was reduced to 3ft 6 in because of costs. It was called the Cape Gauge and has been used throughout Southern Africa ever since.

The change was put into effect in 1882 when the line was extended to Muizenberg. At first there were no stops between Wynberg and Muizenberg and the trains were known as the Muizenberg Flyers because of the fast journeys. Wealth resulting from the Kimberly Diamond Fields turned Muizenberg and Kalk Bay into fashionable retreats for magnates and businessmen who built opulent homes there and in 1883 the line was extended to Kalk Bay making it a popular destination for day trippers at a time when Sea Point was sparsely populated and undeveloped.

In 1889 work began to take the line through to Simon's Town. The Steep and rocky coast, quicksands and river mouths had made it difficult to build even a road between Kalk Bay and Simon's Town and the journey by cart or wagon was so arduous that much traffic went by boat instead.

The completion of the line on 1 December 1890 was therefore a celebrated event. The honours were done by Cecil Rhodes - then Premier of the Cape - who rode in the first train which arrived in a bunting bedecked Simons Town. There was a parade, free train rides for the children and a grand luncheon at the British Hotel for all the dignitaries.

 
CAPE TOWN

Cape Town's first railway station was a temporary wood and iron complex sited near the present-day Golden Acre. It was built in 1861 and was replaced in 1875 with a handsome stone-faced brick building that housed the platforms and offices of the Cape Government Railways. It was substantially enlarged over the years and 'under the clock' became a favorite meeting place. It gave way to the present station in 1964.

Cape Town Station in 1896
 
WOODSTOCK

Originally called Papendorp, after Pieter van Papendorp who lived there in the 18th century, Woodstock beach was famous for its lime kilns and as the site of the tragic aftermath of the Cape's violent storms in the days of sail. 6000 people witnessed the Governor turning the first sod in the pouring rain to start construction of the line here in 1859.

The old Castle Brewery and the gasometer of the Cape Town Gas Company (which serviced large parts of older Cape Town) are on the seaside of the line.

 
SALT RIVER

The river named by the Dutch for its salinity - Zout Rivier - rises near Riebeeck Kasteel 80Km north of Cape Town. Parts of the railway workshops here date from the very beginning and are still in full use. The Station was built for the convenience of the railway artisans who mainly lived in Cape Town and the suburb grew around the workplace. It is also the junction of lines to the North and South. On 9 June 1926 four rear coaches of a crowded commuter train were derailed and 17 passengers, including Cape Judge President Sir Malcolm Searle were killed.

 
OBSERVATORY

Originally the first stopping place on the Wynberg line, Observatory Road Station marked the point where the line crossed the road to the Royal Observatory established by the British Admiralty in 1827. Most of the pioneering work carried out by famous astronomers Royal Sir William Herschel and Sir Thomas Maclear is continued today at Sutherland in the Karoo, far from city lights.

The Observatory is sited on Valkenberg, one of the earliest Free Burger farms which also houses the century-old psychiatric hospital.

The building of the station made it a much more accessible suburb which boomed as a result of the diamond and gold rushes and is today a rich but threatened collection of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. The best part of Observatory - Clee estate - was lost to Groote Schuur Hospital when it was built in the 1930s. It is chiefly famous for the first human heart transplant performed there in 1967.

 
MOWBRAY

Mowbray was first called Drie Koppen after the heads of three slaves impaled there after execution for murder in 1724. Mowbray House, who's owner came from Melton Mowbray in England inspired the new name. Already a bustling little village in 1840s, it became a municipality in its own right in 1890 later merging with Cape Town.

The temple like memorial to the energy of British Imperialist Cecil Rhodes can be seen on the mountain side and above it the King's blockhouse used to signal messages between Cape Town and Muizenberg before electric telegraph arrived in 1860. The landscape below Devil's Peak includes the only surviving windmill - Mostert's Mill - built two centuries ago and a reminder of the wheatlands farmed by the Dutch settlers.

Just after leaving the station there is a cutting dug by navvies brought out from Britain to build the line in 1863. St Peter's Church was opened in 1854 and perches above. Sir Billy Butlin of Butlin's Holiday Camp fame was baptized there in 1900. Opposite is the Mowbray Maternity Home.

 
ROSEBANK

At first only a small stopping place called Lower Mowbray, Rosebank House once on the corner of nearby Alma Road gave its name to the new station which also houses a post office, quite customary then.

It became a busy light industrial station supplying wood to the Rosebank match factory on the main Road and servicing the Rosebank Agricultural Showgrounds active until 1953.

 
RONDEBOSCH

The train passes over the now canalised Liesbeek (originally the Amstel) River before reaching 't ronder doorn bosjen, an outpost for the farming operations of the Dutch East India Company.

The station is the only one built on the eastern side of the line because most people lived there.

Very little of the pleasant Victorian village remains and the only older landmarks of note are St Paul's Church (1834), the Rondebosch Fountain (or more accurately, horse trough) and the Rondebosch Town Hall (now Public library). Most of the mountainside is taken up by the Groote Schuur Estate, a vast area amalgamated by Rhodes with an eye to conservation. It includes his grand former home, now official residence of the State President with many nearby houses for the cabinet. Apart from the University, Rondebosch has a concentration of famous South African Schools, including Bishops (founded in 1849) Rustenberg Girls School (1894) and Rondebosch Boys' School (1897).

Trains were formally requested not to blow their whistles by the classical (1900) Dutch Reformed Church.

Rondebosch Station looking down the line towards Cape Town
 
NEWLANDS

The New farming lands opened up by Governor Simon van de Stel in 1700 retained much of their rural atmosphere when the new line of 1864 passed through vineyards and Letterstedt's woods. The farms have gone but arguably the wettest place in the Peninsula still has a verdant image. The area immediately around Newlands Station is fringed by internationally famous Newlands Rugby Stadium and Newlands Cricket Grounds, both established over a century ago. The Mariendal Brewery begun by Letterstedt in 1859 and continued by Ohlsson in 1881, still brews with fresh spring water. Cape Town's only surviving and functioning watermill - the Josephine Mill built in 1840 - is also close by.

 
CLAREMONT

Claremont station was the first of the 1864 lien stations to be completed. The suburb took its name from the Cape Colony Premier, Sir John Molteno. A bustling commercial center today, Claremont was always a busy little village situated at the junction between Main Road and Lansdowne Road which served Philippi, the community of German market gardeners who were imported in 1883. The Claremont Town Hall, pride of the independent municipality that lasted from 1886 to 1913, once stood facing the station forecourt. It was demolished in the 1950's. Aljamia Mosque built in 1911 is one of Cape Town's largest and can be clearly seen from the station.

As Protea, Claremont was the official diocese of the Bishop of Cape Town who lived at Bishopscourt. Sophy Grey, wife of the first bishop, designed St. Saviour's, Claremont, among many other Anglican churches throughout the Western Cape.

 
HARFIELD ROAD

Opened in 1931 as a direct effort to compete with the trams and busses of the Main Road, Harfield Road differs from the other stations in that the single island platform is set between the up and down tracks and is reached by Subways. The booms just before reaching Kenilworth Station are the last of 61 level crossings.

The name comes from Harfield Cottage built in 1831. It was visited by the famous explorer David Livingston.

 
KENILWORTH

The farm lands originally granted to Jacob Vogel became rapidly parceled out for suburban growth once the line reached the small stopping place originally called Mortimerville. In 1882 it changed its name to Kenilworth, a nearby grand house inspired by Kenilworth castle, famous setting of a Sir Walter Scott novel.

The Kenilworth Racecourse on Rosmead Avenue has been there since 1904 and was the home of the premier Cape racing event known as 'the Met'.

 
WYNBERG

De Wijnberg - the wine mountain where van Riebeeck successfully grew grapes - included a small military outpost in Dutch times. A permanent camp was established after the First British Occupation in 1795. Gradually land was sold off to churches and officers and a village developed. Pretty Regency cottages became popular leave venues for poorly paid military and civil officials from India. The arrival of the railway line in 1864 radically altered the community. Much larger barracks were constructed and the village became a dormitory suburb of Cape Town. It is still a richly endowed architectural precinct.

The site of the Wynberg Station was donated by J M Maynard, a wealthy local who was also a major shareholder of the Wynberg Railway Company. Maynardville Gardens - venue for open air Shakespearian productions for the last 50 years - is named after him.

The cost of the original five station buildings - Mowbray, Rondebosch, Claremont, Newlands and Wynberg - was the equivalent of R14 000. Still serving their purpose a century and a quarter later, they were undoubtedly a sound investment. Wynberg is the highest point on the line.

 
WITTEBOME

Maps of the 17th century indicate the area was named after the silver trees that grew there. The station was opened in 1931 also as a result of the bus fare price war and was originally called Constantia Road. part of the Dominican School for the Deaf established in cape Town in 1863, moved to Wittebome in 1937.

 
PLUMSTEAD

When the line from Wynberg to Muizenberg was extended in 1882, it was decided that there should be a stopping place two kilometers beyond Wynberg. It was called Plumstead and eventually became a station. It primarily handled the fruit traffic of the Constantia Valley. The goods sheds near the station are a reminder of what was still largely agricultural land until the 1920s. The suburb of Plumstead mushroomed after the Second World War.

 
STEURHOF

Opened on Christmas Eve in 1934, Steurhof was meant to serve the residential area that was beginning to grow between Plumstead and Diep River.

 
DIEP RIVER

The line crosses a shallow stream called Diep River just after Steurhof. In the 17th century most of the thatching grass used by the Dutch East India Company, came from here. The station was one of the only two built on the line between Wynberg and Muizenberg in 1882 and passengers sometimes broke their journey at Ratherfelders, a coaching inn which stood near the present-day Eaton Convalescent Home.

 
HEATHFIELD

Named for the many varieties of heath that grew and still grow here, Heathfield Station was opened in 1913 to assist passengers on the interchange of the line to Ottery. The suburbs of Bergvliet and Meadowridge have gown around the station.

 
RETREAT

A series of advances and retreats during the Battle of Muizenberg in 1795 took place between the Dutch and British troops in this area and incidentally gave it a name. It is one of the two original stations on the Wynberg - Muizenberg line and even until after the Second World War, was set in a rural backwater. Retreat is the mid-point of the line to Simon's Town.

 
STEENBERG

As early as 1657 the Dutch attached the name of the stone mountains to this place. The scenic Boyes Drive with its spectacular views of False Bay can be seen quite clearly. The plain station originally called Military Road, opened in November 1929 to serve the largely industrial area that remains today.

 
LAKESIDE

The line crosses the northern end of Sand Vlei, a very large estuary teaming with bird life and popular as a boating facility since the middle of the 19th century. The Marina da Gama housing development was a pioneer of its type in South Africa. Some older houses below the mountain are a reminder of the days when a holiday retreat here was truly isolated. A former landmark, the Blue Moon Hotel, was a popular dining and dancing venue between the wars.

Lakeside as seen from the railway tracks.
 
FALSE BAY

Early Portuguese mariners often mistook Cape Point for Hangklip (some 40 kilometers apart) and turned north too soon. Cabo Falso or False Bay has been the name applied to the whole bay since. It was also known as Golfo dentra das Serras - the bay between the mountains. The station was opened in 1936 and was originally to have been called Albertyn Road after the road that crosses the line.

 
MUIZENBERG

Moetjesons - a Khoi group living in the area in the late 18th century may have been the origin of the name recorded on a 1782 map. It was certainly used as a Dutch East India Company winter anchorage and cattle post in 1782 and the man in charge - Willem Muijs - may also have given his name to the place destined to become an extremely popular seaside resort. The present station - by far the most splendid on the line - was built in 1913 to replace the original simple structure of 1882. The station building is a proclaimed national monument. The magnificent beaches and surf have attracted holiday-makers and the rich and famous since the end of the 19th Century. Palatial homes and historic buildings are strung out along the road to St James. Among them are the Posthuys probably built in 1673, the Fort - the former Labia palazzo and now an annex of the National Gallery, the magnificent Rust en Vrede of Sir Abe Bailey and the simple seaside cottage where Rhodes died. Muizenberg was also the destination of the first South African airmail - sent from Kenilworth on 27 December 1911.

 
ST JAMES

When the line was extended to Kalk Bay in 1883, a stopping place and platform were erected near the St James Church built in 1858. The destination became so popular that a proper station had to be built in 1900 when the Church as demolished and replaced across the road. The station kept the name at the suggestion of the parish priest, Father Duignam who built the second St James as well as the Star of the Sea Convent School next to it.

The tidal pool is said to be a very old fish trap and the distinctive bathing boxes are all that remain of many that belonged to families who were regulars on the beach. For the first 40 odd years of this century there was an old marine station with a popular aquarium and research laboratory.

 
KALK BAY

The lime kilns which operated here in the 17th Century gave the bay its name. Always a fishing ground, it was a busy whaling station at the beginning of the 19th century. the line reached Kalk Bay in 1883 and was the end of the line until 1889. A turntable for the locomotive was built at the north end of the station building, originally a private house. the present-day Brass Bell was the site of the old pavilion. It was only in 1913 that work began on the little fishing harbour and life was made marginally easier for the fisher folk.

 
CLOVELLY

Opened in 1936 to service the residents of Mayfield Estate (later Clovelly), the station was built right on the rocks and became a favorite but illegal fishing spot. The concrete footbridge giving access from the road to the beach was built in 1930 and demolished in 1990 when the station was also closed. The station was at the foot of the perilous Trappieskop, for long the only access across the beach to Fish Hoek.

 
FISH HOEK

Visch Baay was being used for cattle grazing at the end of the 18th Century and in 1818 Bruyns applied for a 1300 morgen quit-rent farm. Governor Lord Charles Somerset granted it with several conditions including a ban on the sale of alcohol which is still in force today. Subsequent owners developed the fishing industry of the area including a prosperous whaling station. By the end of the 19th Century it was a popular venue for Cape summer picnics but the owner Oom Jacob de Villiers would sell no part of his property. After his death in 1916, 3000 plots were auctioned and the town of Fish Hoek was born. When the line came through in 1890 it was continually plagued by sand drifts which were carted away and dumped at various sites including the reclamation of Salt River. The station - actually below sea level - was built in 1928. A year earlier international fame was achieved with the discovery of the skeleton of a Middle Stone Age man of 15 000 years ago in Peer's Cave above the town.

 
SUNNY COVE

The small unmanned halt was built in 1928 at the whim, some say, of a senior railway official who lived close by. It is built on top of iron tanks filled with concrete that form a sea wall on which the railway runs. The line crosses the mouth of the Elsje's River.

 
GLENCAIRN

Elsje's Bay was home to vegetable, wheat and cattle farmers at the beginning of the last century and may have taken its name from the many els trees that grew here. The quicksands of the beach were hazardous to traffic en route to Simon's Town and boats to Kalk Bay were regarded as safer. In 1901 a syndicate of Scots got together and called their enterprise after the pile of stones at the one end of the valley - Glencairn. 56 plots were sold. The brewer Ohlsson built a glass factory that thrived for a few years at the beginning of the century. The present modest station was built in 1905 to replace one at a lower altitude.

Commuter train coming up to Glencairn on its way back to Cape Town - 1917
 
SIMON'S TOWN

The white-washed cottage before entering Simon's Town was called Klein Vishoek and belonged to the same Bruyns family associated with the beginnings of Fish Hoek. Next to it is a reminder that one is entering a naval base. The lower North Battery began as Zoutman Battery and was designed by Thibault in 1793. It is the oldest fortification in South Africa that is still armed. The bay was visited by Governor Simon van der Stel in 1687 and later became the winter anchorage for vessels of the Dutch East India Company. A village grew around it. After the second British occupation, it became a Royal navy base and remained so until it was handed over to the South African Navy in 1957. The town was proclaimed a municipality in 1883 and is the second oldest in the Peninsula. It has a rich architectural heritage and one of the best preserved streetscapes in South Africa. The station is situated at the end of Long Beach and next to historic Admiralty House.

 
Upcoming Trips
Cape Town to Simon's Town
11 January 2015

Atlantic Rail will be running a trip from Cape Town to Simon's Town (return) departing Cape Town at 10h30 and later departing Simon's Town at 15h00 for the journey back.

If any guests would like to be dropped off or collected at Kalk Bay station, then they must stipulate this when booking. This cannot be arranged on the day of departure as it has to be planned into the running time table, so let us know early.

Prices are R250 for Adults and R150 for Children 3 to 12.
BOOKING IS ESSENTIAL info@atlanticrail.co.za

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