Happy birthday, Rovos Rail!

happy birthday rovos rail
Image by freelance writer, Andrew Thompson

Another clickety-clack around the sun! We can hardly believe it. Happy birthday, Rovos Rail! 35 years. What an achievement.

Some of you are familiar with our story but, for those who aren’t, we’re a small family-owned and operated business that launched our first overnight journey on 29 April 1989. When we celebrated our 30th birthday in 2019, we produced a short film where you will meet the family and team members who narrate the Rovos Rail tale and now, five years later, we have so much to add to our story.

Since resuming our services post-pandemic, we introduced the new 15-night African Trilogy journey. We have now operated this trip four times and on the last sojourn we sent a film crew to capture its magic (click here). We’re proud of this adventure because we feel the African Trilogy shows our guests a true cross-section of Southern Africa from its east coast to Namibia in the west.

We also sent trains all the way to Angola and back on our Trail of Two Oceans and Copper Trail trips. And wow, what a challenge these journeys are to operate given that water, electricity and any kind of formal tourism are in short supply. But we succeeded and our brave band of intrepid travellers had a good time, which is all that matters.

Unfortunately some of you reading this would have experienced delays and other obstacles due to infrastructure failures within South Africa. Transnet (national railway authority) and Eskom (national electricity provider) are in a bind, which has presented problems for all trains on the railway network. To combat these issues, our formidable CEO, Rohan, and his problem-solving COO daughter, Tiffany, treated the company to its biggest birthday presents ever by purchasing combination electric and diesel locomotives. Should there be power outages or other challenges, we can seamlessly switch from electric to diesel for the journey to continue. This has not been an inexpensive endeavour and the business of hauling our trains with our own locomotives is not something we ever wanted but, with South Africa currently navigating significant crises, we figure the less reliant we are on parastatals the better it will be for our passengers and our team.

Since we last celebrated a significant milestone, we have said farewell to long-serving staff who either moved on or retired. We have also welcomed many new members to our team who took up key positions in human resources, sales, marketing, reservations, finance and in our workshops. We had to rebuild our staff complement after the pandemic and it finally feels like we once again have a robust team in place.

Over the past five years, our incredible workshop team has built two new train sets in between renovating and repairing existing stock, so we now have six full train sets! There have been some moments over the past few years where our yard at Rovos Rail Station has been empty of carriages because they have all been out on various journeys; these moments have felt rewarding and certainly made us feel proud.

We remember back in 1988 when we first put the word out that we were launching a vintage luxury train in South Africa, many people thought Rohan was crazy and didn’t believe he would succeed. We don’t blame them; sometimes we feel the same but, here we are, 35 years on, and we have Rohan and his wife, Anthea, to thank. Working at Rovos Rail is a wild ride with no day ever the same. To not be bored or feel stuck on a hamster wheel is a gift and, although the stress can feel overwhelming at times, there is never a dull moment and for that we are grateful. We are a quirky and eclectic bunch who care deeply about Rovos Rail and who genuinely love our beautiful trains!

A heartfelt thank you to our industry colleagues and the media who have supported us over the years. And to our guests, especially our Rovos Club members, we would not be here without you and it is our privilege to have welcomed you on board. Thank you for travelling with us.

Congratulations to Rohan, Anthea, Tiffany and the rest of the family and a very big happy birthday to Rovos Rail!

Rohan and Anthea Vos with Rohan’s late mother, Marjorie, and Brenda, Bianca, Shaun and Tiffany.

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