Port Alfred’s new railway station was the place to be on 24 December 1883 when the first train departed from the town heading for Waaiplaats amidst great fanfare.
Then, following the completion of the Blaauwkrantz Bridge, the first train to run all the way to Grahamstown, left Port Alfred on October 1, 1884.
And it was again amidst great fanfare when on May 11, 1993, 118 years later, that the last train, now no longer pulled by a steam engine but by a diesel locomotive, departed from Port Alfred.
Although the trains have gone from the station there are many reminders of the railway in the Kowie Museum, suitably exhibited in the old railway station.
The centrepiece of the collection is a model approximating the layout of the railway system in Port Alfred showing the track which led from the Nico Malan Bridge past the station to Bathurst and beyond. In earlier days when steam locomotives provided the power, there was a triangle in the grounds allowing the locomotive to turn around to run forward on the return trip to Grahamstown.
The museum is lucky to have examples of signals, signs and lamps used on the railway as well as items from the carriages such as crockery and floor mats. There is a wide collection of documents and photographs from the years the railway operated, including the first steam engine to pull a train out of Port Alfred and pictures of the last train from the station.
The Blaauwkrantz Bridge disaster in 1911 is well documented with photographs, and articles.
In about 2001 for a few years there was a revival of the railway when the Kowie Chu Chu operated as a tourist attraction between Port Alfred and Bathurst. Unfortunately, it has stopped operating.
If you are interested in railways there is plenty for you in the museum and you can stand on the platform and imagine days gone by with the 11 am from Grahamstown steaming into the station. – Mike Coleman.