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Things are looking decidedly more cheerful - and hopeful - for the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe, the very popular steam train operation in the Southern Cape. Repeated promises by Transnet to close down the operation at the end of June have been reversed (for the moment) and it will be business as usual from 1 August, following the month's shut-down for maintenance in July. The arrangement is by no means permanent. Transnet is adamant that it wants out. It has disposed of every other passenger-related encumbrance bar the Blue Train, which is next on the list for handover to the luckless Department of Transport (DoT), repository (it seems) for everything in the realm of rail that runs at a loss. DoT has even inherited Autopax, remnant of the buses better known in days gone by as the South African Railways Road Motor Service - and no great profit-turner either. The Provincial Administration of the Western Cape (Pawc), which has been handed the Choo-Tjoe baby, is making concerted efforts to find someone or something prepared to pick up the pieces and keep things going. Currently it is studying a recent in-depth report on the matter by consultant Arcus Gibb. On 10 July, Transnet executive manager Karl Socikwa, at a meeting with newly appointed MEC for Finances and Economic Development Alan Winde, agreed to keep the Choo-Tjoe running for a short period, pending takeover by a private operator, if one can be found. Socikwa has undertaken to collate details and list assets within the next few weeks, so that anyone interested knows exactly what they are in for. This information, as well as Arcus Gibb's report. Is to be made available to all interested parties at a meeting late in August or early September. Winde is quoted saying: "At this meeting, we (the Western Cape Administration), together with Transnet personnel, will address and answer questions from anyone - private individuals, corporations or people in the tourism industry - who may be interested in taking over the Choo-Tjoe. A date will be set when business plans must be submitted by interested parties. Transnet have agreed to operate the Choo-Tjoe until another body takes it over." In the same week, Winde's department published the first 'Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe newsletter,' as a result of 'all the queries since the train stopped operating on 26 June, following an earlier announcement by Transnet.' 'I believe,' Winde says, 'the public will come to the train's rescue. The provincial government is more than ready to play a facilitating role to get the train operating again." Anyone wanting to comment or submit suggestions can phone the Western Cape Department for Finances and Economic Development at 021 483 3531 or e-mail finmin@pgwc.gov.za [ On a point of clarity, there are of course two main topics under consideration - operation of the train itself (presently running between George and Mossel Bay), and the fate of the George-Knysna line - where it used to run, prior to the disastrous floods in 2006. - editor, Railways Africa
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