For the second year running, we just used state-run PRASA’s Premier Classe train to travel with our car to/from Cape Town (to Johannesburg and then by road to the Kruger Park). Last year, it was a delightful trip, despite the train being a couple of hours late into Johannesburg and somewhat later on the return journey.
This year has been much less satisfactory, to the extent that we are unlikely to travel this way ever again.
The train itself was much the same as last year; old, well worn, but in the main, clean and serviceable. The crew, delightful. The catering is unnecessarily ambitious for such a restricted facility and would be better sticking to the basics.
The up train was almost half an hour late leaving Cape Town and got progressively later in an endless series of starts/stops until we reached Klerksdorp, where it stopped completely. Passengers with time sensitive travel connections in Johannesburg left the train to be ferried in a minibus, while we sat. And waited. After perhaps half an hour, the train manager told us that a cable theft had all but rendered our passage into Johannesburg impossible and that the train was being re-routed via the Vaal Triangle.
Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. I lost count of these momentary, minutes long or half hour delays, but 20 – 30 wouldn’t be a bad estimate. The Train Manager explained that there were signalling problems and each stop required an “authorisation” to move forward.
The train eventually arrived at Park Station some time after 21:00 – ten hours late.
We then waited another ninety minutes while the less than enthusiastic staff dragged themselves into slothful action and delivered our car.
During that time, we were required to cross with our luggage, from the arrival platform to the unloading bay, up a very long flight of 35 stairs and down a similar lengthy staircase. The escalators don’t work, nor do the lifts and apparently haven’t for at least two years. The waiting area is a collection of scruffy, broken chairs and benches in an almost pitch black area under a road bridge, adjacent to the unloading bay.
Di has a serious medical condition which affects her hearing and balance and is likely to have surgery shortly. She walks with a stick. Stairs are impossible. If it hadn’t been for the train crew’s assistance, we’d have been in serious trouble. And I have to ask, would you want to be hanging around Johannesburg station late at night in the dark, with absolutely no security, protection or supervision going on?
The return journey?
It’s hard to imagine worse, but it was, by a very long way.
We left Johannesburg 40 minutes late and made reasonable time until Leeudoringstad, where the diesel engine expired. It took seventeen hours for a replacement locomotive to arrive.
Then, the train still went stop, start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. We were also without water for the shower, washing hands, toilets or anything else for much of the trip. The WCs had no plugs in the sink, rarely had soap and were constantly without towels, paper or otherwise.
Then the train’s on-board electrical generator failed in Kimberley, leaving us sweltering with no air conditioning. Eventually, the crew managed to re-start the equipment, but only long after it was dark.
Between Paarden Eiland and Cape Town, one of the two replacement electric locos failed and we sat for another two hours until a diesel loco arrived to drag the train into the station – now 27 hours late.
Of course, there were any number of PRASA managers and PR people on hand to apologise and offer compensation.
After the Train Manager had scuttled off home – no doubt exhausted by making excuses for his employer and its complete inability to manage anything, there was no one from PRASA at all. The most senior people being the guys that unloaded the cars – that took another 40 minutes, because Transnet never seems to be in a hurry.
Meanwhile, international visitors had missed connections, car hire arrangements and hotel bookings. No apology from PRASA. To a man those visitors and their pounds/dollars won’t be back.
Us too. We stopped flying with SAA many years ago after we were left behind in Miami after Hurricane Andrew stranded us in Orlando with no connecting flight. Now, it’s PRASA/Transnet.
I’m asking for a refund. For the entire trip – all R20-odd thousand Rand’s worth. I doubt it will change much, but it will make me feel much, much better.