Paton Express

The Umzimkulu District had been particularly hard hit by East Coast Fever and in 1912 there were still restrictions on the movement of cattle in that area.  It was reported that the farmers could not afford to hire transport to take their maize to the nearest railway station at Stuartstown (Ixopo).  The Railway Commissioner who investigated a possible line to this area, recommended a line from Stuartstown to a suitable site on the Natal side of the Union Bridge at the Umzimkulu River. The country to be traversed was fertile and capable of growing almost anything.  The country was said to be sparsely populated with Europeans but there were thousands of natives in the district.  Approximately 600 first class and 2 400 third class passengers, 3.5 tons of goods and 2 500 head of livestock were estimated to be moved in this area per annum and the Commissioner felt that the capital cost of constructing the line would be very soon repaid. 

The line was constructed departmentally commencing in August 1912. The line was built with second hand Natal and Cape Government Railways track.  The maximum axle load was 5 tons and speed 12 miles per hour.  The terminus down near the Union Bridge, which consisted of a wood and iron station building with a passenger shelter, lamp room and a goods shed was named Madonela, the native name for Donald Strachan, the oldest living European in the district.  The junction just outside Ixopo where the lines divide to go up to Donnybrook and down to Madonela became known as Union Bridge Junction, although it is nowhere near the bridge known by that name. The Ixopo - Madonela line was 17.5 miles long with a maximum ruling grade 1 in 33, compensated and was built at a cost of about £ 50 000

An appropriate committee was formed and funds were collected for the official opening.  Typical to Ixopo weather, the official completion date was not met for December 1913. Instead on 2nd February 1914, the first train left Ixopo at 7:35 p.m. and arrived at Madonela at 9:00 p.m.

The narrow gauge line lay unused for approximately 15 years from 1985 to 2000 and was first used again by Paton's Mini Express with a gangers trolley.  November 2000, the same narrow gauge line is in use by "Paton's Express” with a 5 ton Lenning Diesel Locomotive and gangers trolleys.

With gratitude to M. A. Mingay and Kwa-Zulu Natal Railway Museum for the valuable information.

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