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Simonstown

Simons Town station opened for business on the 1st December 1890 when the 10 kilometers of single track along the shore of Simons Bay from Kalk Bay was completed. The Opening was performed with due ceremony by the Premier of the Cape Colony, Mt C J Rhodes, who made a speech on the platform when he got out of the train which had brought him and sundry other dignitaries from Cape Town.

It was a great day in Simons Town with parades, flags, banquets and, of course, innumerable speeches. The town was illuminated after dark with hundreds of Chinese lanterns and the ships of the Royal Navy lying off-shore were lit up by electricity, which was still something of a novelty.

The 10 Kilometers of track had taken twelve months to build, which was pretty good going bearing in mind that for a large part of the way the railway runs along a sea-wall which had to be specially built for it and most of the masons and similar tradesmen were brought out from the United Kingdom or the job.

This photograph, taken on the 29th June 1907, shows one of the 0-4-0 saddle tank locomotives used by the contractors on the construction of the docks at Simons Town. photo: SIMONS TOWN MUSEUM

Apart from Kalk Bay at the beginning of the line and Simons Town at the end of it there were no stations, but stopping places were provided at Fish Hoek and Glencairn where it was expected that there may be some passenger traffic in the future. Both these halts were on the beach just above the high tide level and both were beset by drifting sand which continually covered the track.

When a platform was later installed at Fish Hoek it was built on trestles so that the sand could blow straight under it and not bank up against it and over the line. At Glencairn the station had to be moved further towards Simons Town to a point off the beach and where the coast-line was rocky nstead of sandy.

If sand was a problem for the Railways at Fish Hoek and Glencairn it was salt water that bothered the passengers at Simons Town where, when the southeaster blew, the spray from the waves covered passengers alighting from trains on the outer platform. This was aggravated by the fact that they had to walk the full length of the train before climbing down off the platform in front of the engine, crossing the lines and then clambering up onto the other platform to gain the station buildings and the exit. In spite of continual protests and questions in Parliament the Railways refused to install a passenger bridge and it was thirty-six years before a subway was constructed to link the two platforms.

In the fullness of time other stations came into being along the line at Clovelly, between Kalk Bay and Fish Hoek and at Sunny Cove, between Fish Hoek and Glencairn, and these all have a story of their own to tell.

Although the 10 kilometer long line was single track (and still is beyond Fish Hoek) it is interesting in that in the early days it generated a number of other lines, actual or proposed.

In the proposed-but-never-built category there was the suggestion made in one of the speeches made on Opening Day that the line should be extended a further 7 kilometers to Miller's Point to promote tourist traffic. This was at a time when everybody traveled by train and a day at the seaside was very much the 'in' thing. Had the idea materialized it would have also have had the merit of making the railway alongside or through the Simons Town docks and in retrospect it seems strange that the railways should have stopped about a kilometer and a half short of this major source of traffic.

The other proposed line was the 12 kilometer long Kommetjie Railway which would have crossed the Peninsula from Fish Hoek to Kommetjie on the Atlantic coast where a residential area was being developed. The authorizing Act for this privately owned railway was passed by Parliament in 1903 but as with so many other projects at that time it fell victim to the financial stringency then prevailing in the wake of the Anglo-Boer War.

In the negotiations leading up to the Act the Cape Government Railways were adamant that there should be no possibility of the Kommetjie Railway Company seeking running powers over their lines or skimming off any of their traffic on the Cape Town to Simons Town line. Although the Kommetjie Railway trains would have shared a common platform at Fish Hoek with the Cape Government Railways, passengers would have had to cross the platform to continue their journey in either direction.

Lines which were actually built and owed their existence directly, or indirectly to the Kalk Bay/Simons Town line were surprisingly numerous. In 1896 a quarry, which for some years supplied the distinctive stone used for so many houses built in the area, was opened on Elsie's Peak and a trolley line was constructed from it down to the Fish Hoek Outspan where it was loaded onto railway wagons.

From 1903 until 1930 there was a privately owned railway line that ran parallel to the CPR line back from Fish Hoek towards Kalk Bay and across the Silvermine Stream, where it turned inland for nearly a kilometer to the edge of Clovelly, then known as Mayville village. The area was being developed by a Mr. L.J. Colyn who also opened up a quarry nearby and laid a spur for the railway to carry away his stone.

How long this line was actually used by Colyn is not known but the line as far as the Silvermine Stream, or another line on the same route was used by the South African Railways during the 1920s for a special train which was used every Saturday night to clear the line at Fish Hoek and dump truckloads of sand near the Silvermine Steam and well away from the main line.

Further along the line at Glencairn a spur was laid during the Anglo-Boer War from the vicinity of the original station and then inland for a short distance, more or less on line of the present-day M6 Expressway. This appears to have been a dual gauge track and was used, amongst other things, to enable rail mounted heavy guns to be tested by firing out to sea in False Bay.

A large rail-mounted gun being test-fired into False Bay in 1902 from the spur at Glencairn. photo: AFRICANA LIBRARY Johannesburg

It seems possible that the track was also used by the Salt River Cement Works Company which bought land there in 1901 for transporting sand to it's works in Salt River. It was this sand which lead to the establishment of a glass factory in 1902 on the same site and the indications are that this track was used to serve the new factory which was located some 200 meters from the old Glencairn station. The factory closed in 1905.

The naval considerations which probably finally moved the Cape Government, after years of delay, to complete the railway through to Simons Town also caused the very considerable expansion of the harbor and naval dockyards between 1901 and 1910. In order to carry all the stone required for this work from the quarry on the hill above Simons Town to the harbour site, the contractors constructed a railway line complete with the necessary inclines to overcome the gradients involved.

Now 100 years after the Simons Town line was opened the Railways keep trying, to the intense annoyance of the local residents, to close Clovelly Station on one pretext or another; Fish Hoek has become a sizable town but still does not permit the same of liquor within its boundaries; Sunny Cove station perched on it's concrete lines caissons dozes above the waves; Glencairn has long since forgotten the excitement of the big guns or the glass factory, while Simons Town is still at the end of the line and though not the southernmost station in Africa, it certainly the southern end of Metrorail/Transnet's electrified system.

 
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