THERE was great excitement in the town of Franschhoek on Tuesday, when a traditional tram was dropped onto the railway line at the Franschhoek wine cellar.
The unique new Franschhoek Wine Tram, which is propelled by a diesel engine, is due to start running in September at the start of the next tourism season.
Tram testing will be carried out this week by the Rail Safety Regulator on the portion of the line that has already been reinstated between the Franschhoek Cellar and La Motte siding.
This is the culmination of several years of hard work by tram owner David Blyth who has obtained a Spoornet lease on the rail section, to create an iconic new Western Cape tourism experience.
The idea is to provide tourists with a safe method of travel while wine-tasting in the Franschhoek Valley - the only wine-growing area in the world where wine estates can be directly accessed by tram.
According to Blyth, the Western Cape Government aims to use the tram project as a catalyst to promote tourism development in the area.
The service will include a narrated tour of two to three hours focusing on the history of Franschhoek and wine cultivation in the Franschhoek Valley.
The sleek vehicle was designed and constructed by Prof Engineers in Johannesburg, one of South Africa’s leading specialist engineering companies involved in the development, design and manufacture of bespoke equipment for rail, mining and industrial applications.
The newly constructed tram is loosely modelled after the open-sided Brill Trams of circa 1890 and seats approximately 30 passengers on eight comfortable benches, six of which have flipped-over, tram-style seatbacks that allow passengers to enjoy the views in both directions.
The tram will be able to attain a leisurely speed of 18 km/h and is fitted with roll-down awnings to protect passengers from any inclement weather
Passenger access it via two low non-slip fixed steps along both sides of the tram allowing for safe and easy passenger access and includes wheelchair access as well.
For safety reasons, the tram will carry two flagmen who will assist the tram at all road crossings.
The tram will come to a full stop before each crossing, where the flagmen will then flag any traffic to ensure that the tram can cross safely.
The tram houses a self-contained hydrostatic propulsion system that utilises the latest in bio-diesel engine technology to reduce greenhouse gas, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide emissions when compared to fossil fuel and emissions by a steam train.
“The tram service will provide another hugely popular and distinct reason to visit Franschhoek, further strengthening Franschhoek’s appeal locally and internationally,” says Blyth.
“The Franschhoek branch line was opened in 1904 and because of our project it will be preserved. Our company will support rail preservation through donations to heritage groups.”
For more information, visit www.wine tram.co.za.