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South Africa: The Franschhoek Wine Tram

Between Vrede Lust vineyard and Simondium | © Gunter Mackinger

60 km east of Cape Town lies the wine-growing town of Franschhoek – founded by French Huguenots in the 17th century and still the centre of upmarket wine culture today. From 1904 to 1993, the small town at the foot of the Dragon Mountains was served by a branch line of the SAR, which connected to Cape Town’s suburban railway system in Paarl. Even the “dieselisation” could not save the 30 km long line, although since 1993 special steam trains have been taking guests to wine tasting in this tourist stronghold. At the beginning of the 21st century, the small town of 1000 inhabitants was able to acquire the railway line at a price of recognition.

Currently the southern terminus – Simondium station | © Gunter Mackinger

The proactive winegrowers of the region had the idea of wine tastings by tram – similar to the hop-on hop-off bus systems – only on rails. In 2012, the first section was put into operation. The vehicle was a two-axle summer railcar with a diesel drive (biodiesel). The success was overwhelming – section after section of the route was put back into service from Franschhoek towards Simondium, with the stops reading like a wine list of the best South African wines. To meet the high demand, two mighty double-axle double-decker trams were delivered by DCD Rolling Stock in 2017. Curious – all 3 existing tramcars of the Franschhoek wine tram are numbered “10” (!?!). Currently, about 16 km of track are in use and the infrastructure is in first-class condition. The trams service is operated every hour, and the daily number of passengers is approximately 1000. Instead of checking tickets, the conductor serves delicious wine – maybe a business model for public transport in Europe?

Level crossings are secured by posts | © Gunter Mackinger
Groot Drakenstein station | © Gunter Mackinger
The lower deck of a double-decker tram | © Gunter Mackinger
View into the driver’s cab of one of the two double-deckers | © Gunter Mackinger
One of the tramcars at the Franschhoek terminal, close to the town centre, the former SAR station has unfortunately been built over with a wholesale market | © Gunter Mackinger
One of the vehicles near the Simond public school in front of the impressive backdrop of the Dragon Mountains | © Gunter Mackinger