All aboard the Hilton train!

Sponsors and members of the Hilton Steam Heritage Association with the Class One locomotive painted by Hannah Finch, second from left.
By Garth Johnstone

On track, and gathering steam, is the community-driven project to revitalise the Hilton Station, get some of the old locomotives at the station going and to make the museum a focal point the community can be proud of.

And it’s not just about trains, it’s about making the land – in the centre of the village – secure from theft and vagrancy, clean and maintained and a centre where activities and entertainment can take centre stage.

The beautifully restored Class One locomotive. Pictures: Garth Johnstone

Well-known Midlands coffee man David Ballance has worked his magic establishing the Station Stop coffee shop at the station (with the help of Hilton Steam Heritage Association members) and the museum building is being renovated, significant landscaping has been done and the energy levels are fired up. The coffee shop is now open (see Station Stop Coffee Shop on Facebook for details) and going full “steam”.

The dust has been removed from interesting historical pieces, which are now proudly displayed in the museum, the building has had a serious lick of paint (in the original colours), weeding and a general clean-up has taken place.

Examples of the interesting historical pieces hung on the walls of the museum.

A function was held at the station this past weekend, where Heritage Association committee chair Grant Fryer gave a brief update on the history of the project and progress to date.

International rail operator

Fryer announced that the association was in talks with an international rail operator in the luxury travel sector to establish the station as a departure point for one of their yet-to-be-launched services in SA. This would obviously be a significant draw for tourism in the area.

Gavin McInnes of Compagnie Africaine des Wagons-Lits confirmed that applications had been submitted for two concessions, one in the Western Cape and the other in the Midlands. He said talks were ongoing for the long-term projects, with Transnet an important partner. McInnes said the plans were exciting for the Hilton-Howick-Lions River area, and that the work done to revitalise and showcase the rail heritage in the area was impressive.

Fryer said they were looking at the inclusion of a “local content train” for locals to be able to enjoy a train trip experience. “It is likely to be at least another year-to-18 months before this takes place, as one can imagine it is a massive undertaking.” He reiterated that Transnet was an important partner and they were in talks with the parastatal regarding all these plans.

One of the beautiful old machines in need of some TLC (and a bit of of elbow grease).

Some of the ideas to better utilise the space are as a venue for markets; to attract more school groups to tour the facility; to turn one of the coaches into a theatre as a venue to host entertainment, film nights etc. In a building on the station property are a number of beautiful model train sets that have been gathering dust and need a spruce-up. These would be a big drawcard for school groups, particularly if all the electronics and features were functional.

From yesteryear… an interesting piece of detail at the Hilton Station and museum.

Costs

The Hilton Steam Heritage Association and its committee, formed around 2011, has worked extremely hard to get the museum in working order and is hopeful it can soon get trains running and operating as a commercial venture. The costs continue to be a heavy burden, as replacing old parts and labour do not come cheap (some of the individual parts will be in the tens of thousands of rand).

Due to the vintage nature of the machines, most of the parts would have to be custom-made.

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Examples of some of the work carried out thus far with the help of volunteers and sponsors are: Fencing and securing the immediate area; installation of alarm system; weeding and general clean-up; landscaping; interior décor in the museum and coffee shop area; the toilet renovation is a work in progress, and more materials and funding are being sought to complete this.

Chairperson of the Hilton Steam Heritage Association, Grant Fryer, and Hannah Finch, who took on the project of painting and doing restorative work to one of the Class One locomotives at the station.

Hannah Finch, the Howick High pupil who took on painting one of the station’s Class One locomotives as part of her scouting assignments, was also at the function on Saturday. Hannah spent days sanding and pressure cleaning the old beauty, before painting her in its original dark green and red. Hannah attained Springbok level as a scout, in part because of her work painting and restoring the locomotive.

Dave Ballance says Station Stop will be open most days this festive season. He is hoping to run the venue seven days a week in the future. For more information on the project and the association, visit the Facebook page: Hilton Steam Heritage Association.

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Part of an old model train set that has been locked up in storage.

Volunteers and workers have been grafting hard to get the station and museum in shape.

Old and worn out… but still beautiful.

Pieces in the museum.