Tracking trips at once bustling Malvern Station

Malvern Station was a popular railway pick-up point for goods and passengers in days gone by. | Supplied

Malvern Station was a popular railway pick-up point for goods and passengers in days gone by. | Supplied

Published Feb 4, 2024


Durban — For decades, apart from lying fallow for a few recent years, the Malvern Station in Queensburgh, the focus of this week’s Then & Now feature, was a hive of activity.

In days gone by, passengers on their daily commute to work, home or elsewhere, cargo to and from Durban’s port and other goods passed frequently through this terminus south-west of Durban’s CBD.

However, the state of railway networks and station buildings around the country declined rapidly and went out of service in a multitude of places, especially in the last decade.

Ditto for Malvern.

It warmed the hearts of many, including Kenneth Jeanes, who had a close association with this once-important transport node, when it got back to daily use in December, albeit for goods only.

Jeanes, 76, who now lives in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), recently posted an old picture of the station building on the Burra Buddies Facebook page, which immediately generated traction in the comments and likes compartments.

“I appreciated the value railways added to life back in the old days,” he said.

Jeanes and his family moved into a house owned by the “railways” on Ethelbert Road, a short distance from the station. His father Roland worked as the Malvern Station foreman from 1953 to 1969.

Roland Jeanes (left) on duty as the Malvern Station foreman together with a train driver

Jeanes estimated the station’s building would have been erected around 1920 because their house on Ethelbert Road had a “built in November 1921” inscription.

Apart from steam-powered locomotives carrying passengers and goods through Malvern, Jeanes said other trains had special carriers for animals and the raw sewage that was ferried to its eventual dumping point.

“It was a nasty disengagement when a sewage carrier fell off the rail,” said Jeanes.

He said passenger trains were always full, especially in peak hours.

“From 1965 I travelled to work in the CBD by train. A row of two-seaters and three-seaters on either side of the compartments filled quickly in the mornings, and sometimes people had to stand.”

To get a window seat, Jeanes said you had to get in early enough.

“Train rides were good for striking up conversations with people or you could read a book.”

He said the trains headed either in the direction of Pinetown or towards the city and were rarely late.

If they didn’t move as scheduled, drivers would feel it in their pockets.

Jeanes should know: he worked in the office of an accountant responsible for payments to railway workers.

“If trains were late, drivers would be penalised. We handled payouts for thousands of railway workers around Natal.”

Jeanes said working for the railways was the biggest form of employment previously.

“I remember my father saying you have to join the railway because they have good pensions and sick funds.”

As a station foreman, his father was responsible for managing signals and points and selling tickets at the station.

Malvern Station as it stands today – working once again, but in need of some TLC. | SHELLEY KJONSTAD/ Independent Newspapers

The signals were changed manually, with wires running from the levers to points (movable switch rails that direct trains at junctions) on the track and ultimately herding trains in the direction they needed to travel.

“Malvern had two lines – for incoming trains and those leaving the station. Station foremen needed really strong arms to operate the signals.”

Jeanes said there were occasions when the luxury passenger train the “Orange Express” passed through Malvern when the main lines were defective.

He fondly remembered weighing himself on the station’s manual scale.

“Scales were maintained by specialists and always gave accurate readings.

“The periscope positioned on the station’s veranda was another novelty item. It was used by the station foreman to check what was going on up the line towards Escombe.

“I often climbed up the ladder to look through it.”

Jeanes said he and a friend were passengers on the first electric unit from Malvern to Bayhead.

“It was a lovely experience. When the train arrived at Bayhead we had to lay low, otherwise my father would have been in trouble. Our joyride was meant to be under the radar.”

Jeanes and his family moved to Pinetown in 1969 when his father was promoted as the station’s special class foreman.

Independent on Saturday