Cadillacs and workhorses: 25NC and 15F in South Africa

Great Cape Gauge Steam and narrow gauge Garratts in South Africa 16.07.2024 – 28.07.2023

Kruger National Park: 27.07. – 02.08.2024

South Africa: great cape gauge steam

On the 2023 journey, we did what all the experts said was impossible! We successfully ran a 25NC with an authentic train on its old line, and a main line at that. But it was a monumental task to overcome the fiercest of opposition to bring the "Cadillac" of the South African Railways back to life. But despite the huge difficulties encountered on this trip, we decided to do it again. The people who caused these difficulties and tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent our 2023 journey are now a known force and, more importantly, Transnet now knows that we are capable of delivering results even against enormous odds. The “fine print” of the journey should nevertheless be taken seriously. Any locomotive can derail or break down. All of this was already made clear in the 2023 tour description and even if it hardly ever happens, the probability of an event occurring is NOT zero. All but one of the photos shown here are from the 2023 journey, when it was, on occasions, extremely difficult to get the trains out onto the line.

This time we are focussing on a different line to 2023. We are planning to use the line from Bloemfontein to Marseilles/Maseru, which sees regular freight trains, and beyond that to Ficksburg and Bethlehem, where it becomes particularly beautiful, even spectacular, which has not been in operation for several years. In collaboration with Transnet, we have started to work through the line. In early 2024, during a line inspection with a trolley to obtain the Access Agreement, we already spotted many orange-clad railway workers along the disused line working at it.

Transnet is working on the track on the Ficksburg - Marseilles line

The risk assessment for the KimberleyBloemfontein and Bloemfontein – Maseru and Marseilles – Modderport – Ficksburg – Bethlehem lines has been completed. The Access Agreements for part of the lines applied for have been submitted and for the other parts are on the relevant Transnet desk for signature. Transnet is working with us to make the journey a success.

We have secured three locomotives for our tour, one 25NC and two 15Fs. It is possible that a fourth locomotive will be added, but this depends on the number of participants and some remaining technical issues. There will be no update on this website, only the participants of the tour will receive it.

South Africa: great cape gauge steam

The 4-8-4 locomotives of the classes 25 and 25NC are technical masterpieces on Cape gauge. Cast steel frame, roller bearings, stoker, 6.5 m² grate area, 290 m² heating surface and thus over 3,000 hp – with the exception of American locomotives, none of the mass-produced standard-gauge freight locomotives can compete with the Cape-gauge 25 or 25NC. They were licensed for 90 km/h, but could easily exceed and maintain 100 km/h, on only 1,067 mm gauge! They were called the Cadillac of the South African State Railways, and they served everything from the heaviest goods train, often double headed, to the fastest express train. 50 locomotives of the 25NC series were built in the 1950s. In addition, 90 locomotives with condensing tenders (class 25) were built, of which 87 were later converted to class 25NC (NC = non-condensing).

Currently only one locomotive has a track licence and valid boiler certificate: 25NC 3437. It is an original 25NC with a later added torpedo tender.

East of Bloemfontein we will be using 4-8-2 15F 2976 belonging to New Zealander Ian Welch and the 15F 3052 belonging to David Shepherd. Another locomotive may also be used here.

South Africa: great cape gauge steam: 15F

The 15F is also an impressive machine: 5.9 m² grate area, depending on the boiler manufacturer between 295 and 320 (!) m² total heating surface and with 255 units the most numerous type of the South African Railways. These locomotives were to be found on many lines, and over three dozen still exist today. However, only two of them are operational. The locomotives were mostly painted black, but a handful was also painted green.

Bringing the two locomotives back to life it took an immense effort (we are talking about a six-figure sum, but not in Rand, but in Euros). What David Rodgers and I wrote in the introduction to the 2019 and 2023 itinerary still applies. This tour, like all other tours, is a risk. There is only this one operable and line approved 25NC, which has stood for many years, and has moved very little since. Technical problems can always occur, even here and after intensive work on the locomotives in Kimberley. Therefore, the usual warning at this point: these are technical machines with an inherent risk of failure. This risk cannot be excluded or minimised, no matter how much effort is put into it. But – and please take this seriously – the money is spent and it will never come back and cannot be reclaimed. If you are afraid of risk, please do not book this tour. Because even if we move mountains to ensure that everything will work, “we”, who includes all those involved from the locksmith, welder, fireman, loco drivers, organisers and contributors are not God and cannot perform miracles.

It has not yet been decided which passenger coaches will be used. The absolutely authentic passenger coaches would swallow up another six-figure sum (in Euros), which is why we are only cautiously optimistic in this respect. In any case, the trains will look authentic. Pure goods trains and well known SAR mixed trains are certain, but a pure passenger train set is not (as yet), but we currently do have four passenger coaches available for sure.

South Africa: great cape gauge steam






Individual flight to Johannesburg


Morning arrival in Johannesburg until 11am. Charter bus transfer to our hotel in Bloemfontein from 1pm till around 5pm.


Charter freight train from Bloemfontein towards Kimberley with 25NC 3437. It is planned to reach Perdeberg by sunset and then return by charter bus to our hotel in Bloemfontein. Our loco continues to Kimberley for servicing the locomotives and will return at night to Perdeberg.


Early morning: charter bus to Perdeberg, where our charter freight train should be ready for departure. We will go towards Bloemfontein and plan to reach Kloofeind by late afternoon. By charter bus we’ll return to our hotel in Bloemfontein.


In the early morning we’ll leave Bloemfontein by charter bus to reach Sannapos, where we will go aboard our mixed train. The line then climbs to the summit between Marseilles and Maseru, where we will be around sunset.

Several accommodations in Ladybrand


In the morning our train will go back from Maseru to Marseilles, where we meet our second 15F. Our loco from the morning will go light engine to Modderport, while we’ll continue to Modderport with the second 15F. In the afternoon light we will turn directions and travel towards the west and enjoy the climb between Modderport and Hoogfontein.

By charter bus we’ll go from Hoogfontein to our accommodations in Ladybrand.


At sunrise we’ll return to Modderport to depart out of the rising sun towards Hoogfontein. Our second loco will haul us back to Modderport. Late morning we’ll start the 68 km long journey from Modderport to Ficksburg with both 15Fs, double headed. Before Covid, the last charter train faced huge problems on this section due to grass and as a result slipping wheels. Our double header should guarantee that we will face fewer problems which is so important as the line is especially scenic at both ends.

With charter buses we’ll move to our accommodation at the Sandstone Farm and/or in Ficksburg.


Our loco crews and our locos need a day rest to recover and prepare for the next day. What better to do than visiting the narrow gauge line of Sandstone! The line is a stand alone private line, but the trains are looking very authentic as they used to look in SAR times. Here we will probably deploy the NG15 and one Garratt each of classes NNG 13 and NNG16 from sunrise to sunset.

Accommodation at the Sandstone Farm and/or in Ficksburg


With our 15F we’ll explore the Ficksburg – Slabberts section (approx. 30 km south of Bethlehem). The train will spend the night in Slabberts, while we’ll continue to a hotel in Bethlehem by charter bus.


In the early morning we’ll return to Slabberts and lay our focus on the spectacular section between Slabberts and Retiefsnek. We will run a charter train in the early morning light and the late afternoon light.

Afterwards we’ll return by charter bus to Bethlehem.


Our locomotive was turned at night in Bethlehem and awaits us at sunrise in Slabberts. After leaving Slabberts in the morning, we will travel the scenic line to Ficksburg.

In the evening we will return to Bethlehem by charter bus.


By charter bus we’ll return to Johannesburg and you can either continue to the Kruger Park or returning home. Flights can be booked from 5pm onwards.


Arrival at home or …


... Kruger National Park. We will be staying in a very good hotel near the gate to the Kruger National Park and will get to see lots of animals on the excursions. Four game drives have been booked, others can be added on site. It is guaranteed never to be boring, even if you spend a full week there. The park is home to the "Big Five": lions, elephants, buffaloes, rhinos and leopards.


Return from the Kruger Park to Johannesburg Airport


Arrival at home


Line description

The Karoo is a rather barren landscape. The 25NCs were used here until the 1990s. There is a lot of nothing in the landscape around Kimberley, which makes sunrise and sunset shots very easy to achieve. That's what we plan to do and there are some hills that are suitable as photo locations. Otherwise, the tracks run a long straight to the horizon, and only a few bends require the speed to be reduced. Some gradients will demand a lot from the locomotive. Shortly before Bloemfontein, things become more varied.

South Africa: great cape gauge steam

The Kimberley - Bloemfontein line is equipped with a data cable along the northern side of the track, which sometimes makes it difficult to find a good photo spot. However, there are enough photo opportunities for one day in each direction.

The planned lines for the 15Fs, Bloemfontein – Marseilles/Maseru – Modderport – Ficksburg – Bethlehem, are much more beautiful with lots of beautiful curves, gradients, mountains in the background etc. which allow for many different fantastic photos. We will try to pay homage to the early morning light when the steam condenses over the locomotive. The lines have some outstanding photo opportunities, which, fortunately, are also suitable for large groups.

South Africa: great cape gauge steam 25NC und 15F

The line at the Sandstone Farm is not particularly long, but offers a number of beautiful locations with the mountains of Lesotho in the backdrop and has some steep gradients to offer. Sandstone Heritage Estate has actively worked at saving thousands of heritage items from static engines to big beautiful Cape Gauge Locomotives. We are fortunate to have been given access to some of these assets like the 15F locomotive and other rolling stock which we are going to use on the line between Bloemfontein and Bethlehem.

Sandstone narrow gauge

Sandstone narrow gauge

To describe the Kruger National Park as fabulous would be like carrying coals to Newcastle. Everyone knows it and everyone knows how good it is. Our hotel is excellent and a great place to relax after travelling on the railways. After the Kruger Park extension, there is the possibility of a small 5-day additional trip to Cape Town, the Robertson Wine Train (hauled by a class 24 or 19D loco), Table Mountain, the penguins, Kirstenenbosch gardens, Cape Point and a jump from Signal Hill. This is particularly interesting as a real treat for your partners.

South Africa: Kruger National Park

South Africa: Kruger National Park

South Africa: Kruger National Park


Small Print

The tour is planned in detail by very experienced people with the dedicated photographer and video film maker in mind. We discussed all the options and variants in advance in order to achieve the best result. We need get along with several limitations which we need to consider, the price is one of them. There is also a strict 12 hours working rule for train crews. There are some regular trains on the lines. Locos and wagons are allocated to a certain shed and cannot be transferred for thousands of kilometres without bursting the budget. What we’re offering here is (as so often) the maximum possible within all the mentioned and non-mentioned limitations. What we offer now will be much more than in 2023.

The most important times of the tour are:

We have three cape gauge and three narrow gauge locomotives scheduled for our tour. However, the locomotives we’re using are unique and we will not have a replacement in case one of these locos fails. There is no guarantee that a certain locomotive will be used. The only guarantee is that everyone involved will endeavour to offer us the most magnificent steam fireworks in the southern hemisphere.

South Africa: great cape gauge steam

Some of our trains will not carry passenger coaches and we will get to the photo locations by bus and on foot.

The daylight hours in June, the winter in South Africa, are limited. We’re aiming for the early morning and the late afternoon light conditions. This means we’ll need to get up before sunrise. Half board is included in the tour price but doesn’t mean the meals will be served at a set time. The reason why we’re going to South Africa is to photograph authentic looking trains on fantastic lines at the best time of the day and not to have a sumptuous breakfast at 9 am, for instance. Having said this, meals can be served packed or postponed and lunches cancelled. In the evening we’ll usually have time for a proper dinner. If available we’ll offer dinners as buffets.

South Africa: great cape gauge steam

South Africa: great cape gauge steam

Our hotels are of different standards. At smaller places we need to split the group over different places. There will be different standards at different places, but all will be clean and offer a hot shower. The number of available single rooms is limited. We cannot guarantee to have a single room available at all locations. The standard of our accommodations will be about three stars (except Kruger Park, there it’s four stars).

Temperatures can drop below freezing point in the mornings, while during the day we may reach temperatures of more than 20 degrees centigrade. Although we’re hoping for sunny weather, we may see some rainy days or even, in extremely rare event, snow. Please be prepared: rain coat, jumper, jacket, sturdy shoes are essentials which you should carry with you, as well as sun cream and a cap. It’s not advisable to wear your best clothes on such a tour. White or clothes with intense colours are also not appreciated, in case you happen to be standing in someone else’s picture. High visibility clothes will kill their shot, while dark, brown or black colours won’t disturb too much. When packing, make sure your luggage is light. We will not be hiring porters, so you must be able to carry your luggage to the bus yourself.

Most of the photo spots we’re going to haven’t seen photographers for a long time. Vegetation will be a problem – which can be overcome easily by using grass slashers. The more of our group will help, the more photo stops will be possible. If everyone rushes for the “best spot” and stands there until a lonely slasher has cleared the line of grass it may take 20 minutes, time which will be lost for other runpasts. There is sufficient space for everyone to get a master shot in the box. This said, please first help to clear the spot and then head for your position. We’ll not perform a runpast before everyone is in position. It’s a group event and the best result is obtained when everyone in the group cares for the needs of each other and helps when help is required.

South Africa: great cape gauge steam

Electricity is 230V/50Hz, but you’ll need an adapter in most cases. Besides a two pin plug type, South Africa uses a three-pin system which is unique; most universal adapters do not connect to South African sockets. Please check out this website to find the correct adapter:

The region we’re travelling to is considered to be Malaria-free. No special vaccinations are required (except when travelling from Yellow-fever areas to South Africa). No Covid vaccination certificate needs to be shown any longer. However, if you wish to visit some of the famous game parks before/afterwards, including the Kruger National park, you should take some Malaria prophylaxis because the dangerous Malaria Tropica causes 90% of all Malaria infections in South Africa. If you need prescription medicines, you should bring them from home as it might be difficult to get these outside the big cities. However, the best precaution is to avoid being bitten, so wear long clothing and use a mosquito net at night.

For most nationalities no visa is required. Please check with your local embassy if you need a visa (for instance New Zealanders are affected).

You’ll need some local money (Rand) on the tour for beverages and expenses of private nature. For tips US-Dollars and Euros are accepted.

narrow gauge Garratt in Sandstone

Sandstone narrow gauge

In the countryside you’re almost as safe as in central Europe, for instance, but in some of the big cities the crime rate is frighteningly high. Some parts of cities should be avoided, even during daylight hours. The best protection against crime is not to show you are carrying expensive photo equipment with you and to stay together with others from the group.

South Africa: great cape gauge steam

Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in South Africa, although a highly developed country (… it used to be), often falls short of EU, Australian or North American safety standards. Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks. Neither the local tour operator, the state railway, nor FarRail Tours can be held responsible and will accept no liability whatsoever in the case of any accident, damage or bad effects due to delays etc. We suggest you take out a comprehensive overseas accident and health insurance policy. You may consider trip cancellation insurance as well.

We depart on time from Johannesburg airport. If you would like to play it safe, please fly a day earlier. We will organise a hotel in Johannesburg for those arriving earlier.

South Africa: great cape gauge steam



South Africa
Big Steam and Sandstone's Garratts 60 to 70 participants £4,225
16.07.2024 – 28.07.2024 Single room surcharge £660
Registration Deadline: 10.05.2024
The Big Five: Kruger National Park 8 to 22 participants £1,680
27.07.2024 – 02.08.2024 Single room surcharge £330
Registration Deadline: 01.05.2024

The price Includes

Not included are

South Africa: great cape gauge steam


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