New bid to save Mossel Bay’s famous steam train

September 10th, 2010 by H&R | Categories: environmental, government, products, technology, tourism

The people of Mossel Bay have swung into action to try and save the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe, which has been slated for closure later this month.

This follows a meeting on Tuesday between Transnet, the board of Mossel Bay Tourism, representatives of the Municipality of Mossel Bay, and local businesspeople.

The meeting was called so that Transnet could explain the procedures and reasons behind its decision to close the service which has been running on the George-Mossel Bay line since the floods of 2006 closed the George-Knysna line.

“At a subsequent meeting, held later in the afternoon, it was decided to urgently seek a meeting with the Acting CEO of Transnet (Pty) Ltd., Mr. Chris Wells,” said the chairman of Mossel Bay Tourism, Neels Zietsman.

He said that, prior to deciding to close the service, Transnet had entertained two tenders for the operation of the Choo Tjoe, but that neither had fulfilled the company’s requirement that the operation should be taken over as a going concern.

“One of the tenderers, Classic Rail Preservation (Pty) Ltd., has now decided to submit an unsolicited bid for the operation of the Choo Tjoe on the line between Mossel Bay Station and Hartenbos – both as a tourist attraction, and as a commuter train – and all of the parties present at the meeting gave this proposal their unconditional support,” said Zietsman.

The mayor of Mossel Bay, Marie Ferreira, said: “The recent announcement by Transnet that it will terminate the operation of the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe between Mossel Bay and George on the 17th of September has come as a big disappointment, and is a matter of concern to the council, the municipality, and the community of Mossel Bay – both because of the historic value of the train, and because of the negative impact that the termination of the service will have on the local economy.

“I have no doubt that, from Transnet’s point of view, the decision was well-considered, and that it was based both on the economic viability of the operation in its current form, and on the company’s stated objective of focusing on its core business of carrying freight.

“But, while I fully respect the decision, I would nevertheless like to appeal to the company to consider phasing the operation out over a longer period, to coincide with the end of the current tourism season that will end at the end of April 2011.

“Many international tour operators, unaware of the imminent termination of the service, have included the Outeniqua Choo Tjoe in their packages offered for the area until the end of the season. This period also includes the year-end holiday season when thousands of holidaymakers – and therefore potential clients for the Choo Tjoe – flock to the area.”

Zietsman said that this would buy time during which alternate arrangements could be made, and that Classic Rail has invited other interest parties to join them in the proposed project, which, he said, has the potential both to become Mossel Bay’s biggest attraction, and to make a significant contribution to the local economy.

“It will position Mossel Bay as a must-visit destination for tour operators,” he said.

“It also gives specific attention to the government’s requirements for broad-based black economic empowerment, and will solve various challenges that we face as a town – like creating job opportunities, and even the growing problem of traffic congestion that occurs during our summer holiday season,” he said.

He said, too, that the window of opportunity was small, and that quick action was required. “We need to do everything possible to ensure that the steam train service is preserved – not only for Mossel Bay, but for the country as a whole.”