Rovos Rail

A Journey Begins

As so often happens, it was a combination of influences and events that led to the purchase of the first coach, the start of what would become Rovos Rail. A Wilbur Smith heroine with her own private railway coach, a man called Phil Acutt with a passion for trains and the presence of the Witbank Steam Railway in the coal-mining town where Rohan Vos ran his successful auto spares business, all played a part.

“Rohan has always been obsessed with things mechanical,” remembers Anthea Vos, who has been at his side throughout and has raised a family in and around developing the railway business. “In fact, he started his first business with the capital derived from the sale of a 1940 Packard and a 1928 Austin that he had rebuilt. Rohan was involved in so many ventures, but I didn’t see this one coming.”

In 1985, Rohan and Anthea took up a last-minute invitation on a Magaliesberg train trip for business suppliers. “I became a train widow on that day,” says Anthea. “I sat all dressed up by myself; Rohan spent most of the time in the engine with the driver. The irony was that we should have seen then how difficult it would be – the train broke down and we were bussed back to town.”

The same year, influenced by his friend Phil Acutt’s love of trains and the work done by the Railway Preservation Society in Witbank, Rohan attended an auction to buy a coach or two – the intention was to restore four carriages and hitch them to a South African Railways train as a family caravan. Steam-train enthusiast, Geoff Pethick, was present at the auction and assisted him. “It was the 26th of September – a cold day with rain in the air – and I’d hoped Rohan wasn’t another penniless lunatic with grand ideas,” he recalls. “As we chatted, I quickly realised that here was a man of vision.”

Rovos Rail Timeline

In 1986 Rohan Vos received the first letter of permission to run a train on the national rail network In 1987 the first loco 2702 BIANCA was rebuilt along with the first seven carriages that were to depart on the first journey on 29 April 1989.

Rovos Rail Station

For Rovos Rail passengers, a highlight of their journey is a visit to the private station in Capital Park, Pretoria. The once bustling hub of steam locomotion in the old Transvaal is now the headquarters for Rovos Rail. The gracious colonial-style railway station serves as the new departure or arrival point for all train journeys.

The property boasts a small railway museum in addition to its other comprehensive facilities and will, with the addition of semaphore signals and a footbridge, recreate the atmosphere of a fully fledged railway system. It is intended that, with time, this facility should become the foremost working train museum in the world.

The eyes of rail enthusiasts will be drawn to the vast carriage and locomotive sheds where teams of dedicated personnel keep the rolling stock in perfect order. This roofed workshop of 10 000 sq metres straddles 15 railway lines with concrete inspection pits below and is the ultimate repair and maintenance facility for any train operation. The low, red-bricked buildings alongside the new 300-metre platform house laundries, gleaming stainless-steel kitchens and well-stocked storerooms. This is the busy hub of a provisioning operation, which rivals that of a world-class hotel in terms of efficiency and attention to detail.

For more details e.g. routing, cabins etc. please go to their official webpage !