120 Years old yesterday – Namibian Railways – 1899 – 2019

Thursday 22 August 2019. [On the front page today’s edition the historic picture of Hope working on the small railway line between Walvis Bay and Plum.

The day 22 August is regarded as the birth of Namibia’s railways. On this day in 1899 a small locomotive arrived here from Stoke-on-Trent in England, aboard the British barque, Primera. It was still the years of the lighters. Ships would anchor in the bay and these small cargo boats (lighters) moved people and cargo to and fro between land and ship.
The Primera was a majestic with three, tall masts.
During the same time the Cape Government extended the tramway between the settlement of Walvis Bay and Plum (where Dany Construction’s quarry is today) as a short railway.
The small locomotive was named “Hope” and put into service on this line.
Initial intentions were for this railway line to carry trade goods that arrived by ship at Walvis Bay to Plum for further transport into the interior. The German South West African Government at the were also advancing with the railway line between Windhoek and Swakopmund (construction started in 1897) and the idea was to cash in on this opportunity by carting cargo from Plum to Swakopmund.
However, the short railway line never became profitable.
When the German South West African Government commenced construction of the Otavi-Tsumeb line early in the 1900’s, following the discovery of vast copper deposits at Tsumeb, the short railway line was soon obsolete and left over to the sweeping desert winds and sand.
Hope continued to serve on the short railway line, or at least what was left of it after huge swaths were covered by sand. It mainly transported waste out of the settlement, shifted cargo around in the port and locals used it for weekend outings into the desert.
Hope was retired when the Cape gauge railway line be-tween Walvis Bay and Swakopmund opened in 1915. This line was constructed by the invading Union of South Afri-can Forces during the SWA Campaign. Troops landed in Walvis Bay on Christmas Day 1914 and as they advanced on Swakopmund constructed a railway line to assist carry-ing war cargo forward. This line opened in March 1915 and served as a feeder line for military equipment and troops as the South West Africa Campaign moved inland and the eventual defeat of the German forces at Khorab at Otavi on 1 July 1915 (the Germans surrendered on 9 July with the signing of the Treaty of Khorab.
Hope stood dormant on a side track in the port for many years and was eventually renovated by the South African Railways (SAR) and plinthed in front of the Windhoek railway station in the 1940’s.
The locomotive was returned to the Walvis Bay railway station and plinthed there in 1961. Very soon the coastal weather extremes again started to eat away at its structural integrity. It was eventually accommodated in a small building with big glass windows – as seen today in front of the railway station.
When you drive past the railway station, take some time and take a peep through the large windows [it is advisable to take a cloth along as the windows are dirty] and see what Hope looks like and remember this is the flag bearer of Namibia’s railway history.
Perhaps one day if TransNamib comes to its full potential Hope will be restored to glory. And we have full confidence in the current CEO Mr. Johny Smith that he would wake the national rail carrier from its decades long hibernation. Until then, Hope’s final resting place will remain that small building with the dust-smeared windows with only a plague of the National Monument’s Council that explains with a few sentences in Afrikaans, English and German what this little locomotive once stood for.

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