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Monday Mar 08, 2010

Franschhoek tram project steams ahead

A multimillion-rand tram project that will transport tourists along the wine route, stopping at various vineyards and restaurants, is on the cards for Franschhoek.

Punted as an "icon" for the picturesque valley, known for its wines and world-class restaurants, the tram will travel along an old 28km railway line to Paarl that is no longer in use.

The project is the brainchild of Franschhoek businessman Dave Blyth and his son Sean, a locomotive enthusiast.

They were in negotiations with Transnet for several years and signed a long-term lease at the end of last year.

"The project is attracting a lot of positive attention," said Blyth, the general manager of the Franschhoek Valley Wine Tram.

"Our aim is to create a tourism icon here in Franschhoek on a par with the Table Mountain Cableway or the Cape Point funicular. We want the tram to become synonymous with Franschhoek and wine tasting."

An initial R10 million injection will be made into the project, which will include the buying of the trams, fixing the line, marketing and project development cost.

He said two historic 1930s trams, costing R2.5m each and imported from Australia, would operate on the line. The first tram would start running late this year.

Each tram seats about 50 people and can travel up to 45km/h.

The trams would be fitted with a communication system and there would be an audio tour on the trip similar to those used at Alcatraz in San Francisco and the Empire State Building in New York.

A ticket would entitle each passenger to use the tram all day. There would be 10 to 12 potential stops, with a tram passing each stop once every hour, allowing passengers to embark and disembark.

Blyth said work on the line would start this month.

The necessary municipal departments had been consulted. There would be flagmen at each major road crossing and road signs warning of tram operations would be put up.

"We are very sensitive to any potential negative impact of noise and pollution on the valley and since the line is not electrified, our plan is to utilise low-emission biodiesel-electric propulsion and in so doing reducing the overall impact of the tram service on the operating environment.

"The line offers a unique opportunity to create a tourism icon in the valley, yielding benefits for the local economy, providing another incentive for tourists to visit Franschhoek and, more importantly, creating new, permanent tourism-related jobs."

Initially 15 jobs would be created in the operation of the tram, management, ticket sales and maintenance, he said.

It will also have several spin-offs in the creation of integrated projects.

These include a craft market at a nearby informal settlement.

There has also been talk of a lavender farm, trout fly-fishing and more restaurants that tourists could stop off at.

"The long-term plan is evolving, certainly it's a collaborative project, we'll be working with the local community, but there are some really exciting initiatives, there's a lot of work going on behind the scenes."

Local government is excited about the project.

Western Cape Finance, Economic Development and Tourism MEC Alan Winde said he offered his full support to this project, which gives tourists another excellent reason to visit the area.

"As tourism numbers to the Franschhoek valley increase, the tram line will not only create direct employment in and around this more rural area, but also will drive economic growth.

"The tram will provide tourists in Franschhoek with another safe method of travel that prevents them from driving between wine tasting venues."

Franschhoek Tourism Bureau chief executive Jenny Prinsloo said the project would be an exciting initiative.

Wine farm owners also welcomed the project.

Professor Mark Solms, the owner of Solms Delta, said it would benefit the town. Dana Buys, the owner of Vrede En Lust, said the tram in California's Napa Valley wine region was successful.

Cape Argus

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