Fish Hoek owes its access by rail to the fact that it is close to Simon’s Town. The line had reached Kalk Bay, then a popular seaside resort, in 1883. The Simon’s Town Dockyard was expanding and before long the Cape Government Railways was asked to extend the line to Simon’s Town. Work began in 1889 and the first train arrived in Simon’s Town station on I’ December 1890. There were problems with building the line across the Fish Hoek valley. The land was privately owned and had to be bought from the owner of the farm, Mrs de Villiers. A single track concrete bridge had to be built to carry the line across the Silvermine River, which tended to spread across the sands as it came down in flood in the winter. To try and prevent this flooding, 44 gallon drums filled with concrete were used to strengthen the river banks. Iron deck plates from the wreck of the Kakapo, on Noordhoek beach, were also used. At Sunnycove there was very little room for the line and it was laid on old iron water tanks filled with concrete, the tanks rusted away but the concrete foundations remained.
The new station proved to be right in the path of the southeaster which blew in so much sand that it drifted into the gap between the platforms making it impossible to get through. A lot of money and labour went into clearing this before, in the late 1920’s it was decided to remove the sand dunes on the beach at the back of the station. This was done at railway expense, with special trains being run to take the sand away. Most of it was dumped but some of it was taken to the railway works in Salt River to be used in engine sand boxes. Every steam engine had such a box so that the fireman could get down and spread sand on the lines when they were too slippery for progress. Old railway sleepers were also sunk into the sand along the edge of the beach to try and keep the line clear.
When the line was electrified, in 1928, it was found that the pedestrian bridge over the line was too low for the overhead wires to pass underneath and it was removed. No provision was made for those using platforms two and three and passengers had to walk across the line, it was only in 1938 that a subway was built. Because of the apartheid laws a second subway had to be provided in the 1950’s and this proved to be a real problem. The excavation soon became water logged and it was impossible to complete it. New plans had to be drawn up with sheets of copper placed between a double layer of bricks and pumps, used to control the water seepage.
The stipulation in the 1818 grant, that there had to be public access to the beach, had to be complied with and so when the line was built, in 1890, a crossing had to be provided for carts taking away fish caught in the bay. The original crossing, in its present position, was a narrow road with a gates to keep out wandering animals.
These had to be opened and shut by those using the crossing and there were also pedestrian gates. As the village developed so more people were using the crossing and although there were gates it was difficult to see trains coming from Simon’s Town.
In 1937 the Village Management Board wrote to the Railways asking that the crossing be moved nearer to the station to make it easier to see the oncoming trains. This was not done but instead, in 1941, the crossing was widened so that two cars could pass each other and the gates were removed. The Municipality, worried about the safety of those using the crossing, asked for a flagman to be posted there or flashing lights to be erected.
Warning bells were put up but as this was during the second world war, the authorities did not want to put up flashing lights which might be used by enemy submarines as a marker to Simon’s Town dockyard. Even after the flashing lights were put up there were several fatal accidents before booms were finally erected.
There are pedestrian crossings at the side of the Silvermine River and near the station. More road crossings were planned but were never built. In 1938 the subway near the restaurant was rebuilt as the open line over the heads of those passing underneath was thought to be dangerous, and a second subway, on the Catwalk, was built in the 1950’s.
As more house were built at Clovelly the residents began to complain that they had a long walk to get to either Kalk Bay or Fish Hoek stations, but it was only in 1936 Clovelly station was built. There was very little room for building and it was squeezed in between the road and the beach with the overhead bridge providing access to the beach. There can not have been many stations with a notice reading “Fishing prohibited from this platform”. The platform on the sea side having been declared unsafe the overhead bridge was closed and fora short time trains stopped only on the way to Cape Town before the station was finally closed completely. Clovelly commuters returning from work once again have to alight at either Kalk Bay or Fish Hoek.
Those living at Sunnycove had the same problem, it was a long walk to Fish Hoek station. They were fortunate to get their station in 1928 as a certain railway official lived there and objected to the long walk to catch his train. Both these stations were really halts, with no ticket offices, one had to pay the fare on the train. In the days when tickets were clipped by the guard on the train, instead of at the barrier at the station, the local youth often used to try and get a free ride to Cape Town.
They would get on the train without a ticket hoping that there would not be a guard on that train but if one did appear they would declare that they had got on the train at Clovelly. The guards soon realised what was going on and if the train was not full they made a quick check between Fish Hoek and Clovelly and those with no ticket had to pay double the fare.
There have been two railway accidents at Fish Hoek. An eyewitness account of the first one in appeared in the South African Railways and Harbours Magazine of July 1919. Dr Davies was on Fish Hoek beach about 5.15pm on the afternoon of 24 May 1919. He saw a train from Kalk Bay come into the station and a train coming from Simon’s Town run into it. Fortunately one train was stationary and he estimated that the other was only moving at about eight miles per hour. There were no fatalities although Dr Davies said, “I jumped through the train and gave all the medical assistance I could to those injured. The first man I saw was practically dying and I sent messengers over to call for medicine and other help and to the surrounding houses for linen etc. These were soon forthcoming, many people supplying many articles very rapidly and generously.” The second accident was more serious.
On 24 January 1928 an engine jumped the points on the Clovelly side of the station and the train was derailed. Six people were killed and twenty four injured.
In 1900 a company called Kommetjie Estate Ltd. purchased a large tract of land at Kommetjie and laid out a township where plots were advertised for sale in 1902. To make this area more accessible the company decided that a railway line from Kommetjie, linking up with the existing line at Fish Hoek, would enhance the value of the plots by making it easy to commute to Cape Town. An engineer was employed to survey the area and plans were drawn up. An Act of Parliament had to be passed to sanction the building of a new railway line and, the plans having been approved, Act No 14 of 1903 was passed. This authorised “The company styled “The Kommetjie Estates Ltd.” to construct and work a railway line in the Cape Division between Fish Hoek and The Kommetjie.” This was going to be an expensive project. The land had to be bought from the owners, who were probably not very pleased at the idea of a railway line through their property, and the area had a high water table which would make construction difficult. The Anglo-Boer War having just ended it was not easy to find investors and the line was never built, but what a convenience it would have been for those living in Ocean View and Masiphumele.