Rovos Rail Shongololo Express

Rovos Rail Purchases Shongololo Express

Early in January of 2016 Rovos Rail purchased the Shongololo Express train of 19 coaches and agreed to employ all the personnel.

“Operating a three-star train had always been at the back of my mind. When I learned that the Shongololo Express was on offer the timing seemed serendipitous and so an opportunity not to be missed”, says Rohan Vos, owner and CEO of the Rovos Rail Group, of the purchase.

The train has been repainted in green and cream and an additional dining car plus an observation car have been added. The accommodation of six Emerald suites (± 10sqm) and 30 Gold cabins (± 7sqm) will remain as is.

The three itineraries, Southern Cross – Pretoria to Victoria Falls (12 days), Dune Express – Pretoria to Swakopmund (12 days), Good-Hope – Pretoria to Cape Town (15 days); have been rebuilt with more stationary time at night and less road time spent on the excursions.

Golf has been introduced to the Good-Hope trip, renamed Good-Hope Golf, with courses such as the Arabella Golf Estate, Ernie Els Oubaai, Fancourt, Champagne Sports Resort, Durban Country Club, Zimbali, Royal Swazi and Leopard Creek being available to guests.

All journeys are available in reverse and, as before, guests can purchase optional extras that include visits to cultural, historical or heritage sites and overnight stays at safari lodges. The rates do not include most lunches, beverages and laundry.

“A three-star product offering will be different for us and I’m sure there will be a few initial teething problems but we’ve been doing this for 28 years so I think we will be able to manage this exciting new adventure”, comments Rohan.

For further information please contact shonogololo@rovos.co.za, call + 27 (0) 12 315 8203 or visit www.shongololo.com. Any media enquiries to brenda@rovos.co.za / + 27 (0) 82 961 9433.

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Exploring New Routes

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To keep things challenging and a step ahead, we are not only continuously looking for ways to improve our services but are always open-minded to exploring new routes and itineraries. One has to keep things interesting and, as many of you will know, we like to be the most interesting!

With this in mind, Rohan Vos, owner and CEO of Rovos Rail, visited Angola and the Congo to explore:

 In December 2014 I visited Angola with the intention of travelling by train on the newly rebuilt C.F.B. line between the port of Lobito, Benguela and the border town of Dilolo, 1350km to the east. This Chinese rebuilt line is a remarkable milestone in Angola’s return to normality after 20-odd years of civil war. The intention is to open the way for copper and other minerals to be exported from Kolwezi in the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and obviously to facilitate imports from the coast to Lubumbashi. The only obstacle to this is the parlous state of the line in DRC from Dilolo to Lubumbashi.

To investigate this line, I hired a motorised trolley from the S.N.C.C. Railways and with driver, technician and translator travelled along the 425km line between Kolwezi and Dilolo. This took four days and was an adventure to say the least. The line is used once a month or so for passengers and due to the lack of undergrowth control it can take the train a week to traverse the 400-odd kilometres. Derailments are also a common occurrence on this stretch.

So, regrettably, the idea of running our train from Zambia through to the Angolan port of Lobito is not practical at present. When the DRC section is rehabilitated it will be feasible. I can only speculate that the undertaking of this task will now become high priority with major pressure being exerted by the Angolans with their shiny new line having nowhere to go! Update next year.

So, no new exciting African adventures for us this year but there is something big we’ll be announcing next week! Stay tuned.

Rohan Vos in Dilolo on the DRC Angolan border           Derailment in Klowezi         benguela

Images, from left to right: Rohan at the Dilolo Station on the DRC Angolan border. During an inspection of the Kolwezi Dilolo (DRC) line, the group derailed after hitting a well-placed tree. The new Benguela Station.

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Rovos Rail Pretoria to Victoria Falls

A World Class Railway

Dear Mr Vos

I am writing this letter as an accolade not only to you but to your dedicated staff who make travel on the train a true five-star experience. I wish to commend you for establishing and running a highly efficient and world class railway. We have travelled on a few trains in different countries and Rovos would have to rank in the top three by our reckoning.

My wife and I travelled on Rovos Rail from Pretoria to the Victoria Falls on 23rd December, 2015. If you cast your mind back, I was the person sitting on the parliamentary chair in front of you when you were addressing the guests prior to our departure.

My wife and I occupied a suite. It was immaculate when we entered and was maintained by staff in that manner throughout our journey. The staff were nothing short of perfect in their efforts to make our trip a memorable one. They were courteous and ever willing to please. The amenities provided in the suite made everything so comfortable – a home away from home.

We had requested special dietary needs for our meals. It was a surprise to us when the chef visited us in our suite to discuss our needs. Allow me to tell you the kitchen staff went beyond the call of duty to cater for us. The meals were immaculately presented in true fine dining style and above all were varied and tasty. To us , it seemed as if the chef enjoyed the challenge of preparing something new each day. I thanked him personally.

The Train Manager on our journey was a true professional. She presented with an admirable work ethic and was a true professional. In conversations with her, I realised what her job entailed. How well she managed it is a tribute to her desire to promote the brand name and reputation. She operated with meticulous precision and it was clear that staff respected her. She was attentive to passenger needs and maintained a cordial relationship with the guests,stopping to converse at each table in the dining car at meal times. Her management of the staff was beyond reproach. This must surely be attributed to a good staff training program!

Finally, the staff on the train were truly magnificent. They were professional and capable, pleasant at all times with no effort spared to see to guests’ needs. It says something when, as guests, we did not want to leave the train at Livingstone because we were already missing the camaraderie we had established with the staff!

I will travel on Rovos Rail again and recommend it to as many people as possible here in Australia.

Thank you and kind regards,

Mr Gona Naidoo

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Rovos Rail Durban Safari

A Wonderful Trip!

It’s always a happy when we receive feeback about a wonderful trip! Mr and Mrs Padiachy celebrated part of their 32nd year of marriage on our Durban Safari and we were so thrilled to be a part of it. Thank you and we look forward to welcoming you on board again one day!

HI REGARDO

WHAT A WONDERFUL TRIP WE HAD ON THE 18 JANUARY 2016, IT WOULD BE ONE THAT WILL STAY IN OUR FOND MEMORIES FOR YEARS TO COME. IT MADE CELEBRATING OUR 32ND YEAR OF MARRIAGE FEEL VERY SPECIAL.

I ALSO WANT TO TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY OF THANKING YOU FOR THE VERY PROFESSIONAL MANNER IN WHICH YOU ARRANGED THIS ENTIRE TRIP FOR US.

MAY I ALSO COMMEND ROVOS RAIL STAFF ON THE TRAIN FROM MART, ADAM, HENNIE, CAMERON, IVANKA, CHANTEL, MICHELE, ANGELIQUE, NAZEERAH, JAKLIEN, MATTHEW, ANNIQA S WELL AS YOUR KITCHEN STAFF

FOR THEIR FRIENDLY MANNER AND SERVICE THEY ALL GAVE US.

AND ABOVE ALL ELSE TO HAVE BEEN MET BY MR VOS PERSONALLY ON OUR ARRIVAL, IMPRESSED US VERY MUCH.

YOU CAN BE SURE,I’LL BE BACK!!!!! THIS TIME WITH FRIENDS

THANK ALL YOU GUY’S ONCE AGAIN

SIELAN AND DELIA PADIACHY

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Rovos Rail diesel locomotives

Six New Diesel Locomotives for Rovos Rail!

After a few years of trying to grow our Rovos family of locomotives, we are proud to announce that we have finally purchased six diesel locomotives. This is a huge accomplishment for us as up until now we’ve had to outsource this haulage to private companies at a substantial cost. We were eager and excited to test their mettle to see if they measure up to our expectations and the wonderful news just in is that two were used to haul the train from Pretoria to Dar es Salaam and they made it there on Saturday with no hassles and on time! A huge thank you and congratulations to our drivers and to Eric, the train manager, and his team.

Acquiring our new locomotives wasn’t an easy task, to say the least. The search for six mainline diesels began in 2008 when we undertook a journey to Namibia to view the new Chinese SDD diesel locomotives, purchased by Trans Namib. Sparked by our interest in these locos, we decided to travel to the CNR train factory in China to explore the possibility of placing an order. Upon entering the warehouse, we noticed that their trains were mass produced. We considered making a purchase, but the price, quality and availability of spare parts concerned us. Our intuition and experience in the locomotive industry told us that we needed to look elsewhere – and so our search continued.

Since our visit to China, second-hand locomotives have become scarce. It was only in 2012, four years later, that we heard about Queensland National selling serviceable trains. We decided to go all the way to their head office in Brisbane only to be disappointed in discovering that all the trains had already been bought by Apex Industrial and resold to RRL Grindrod, AR&TS and Saflog.

After our failed endeavour to secure a purchase from Queensland National, we ventured to New Zealand after news surfaced of KiwiRail’s plan to withdraw a number of diesel locos from the Auckland suburban network. KiwiRail had ordered themselves brand new trains from China to replace their current trains but once the Chinese trains were inspected, they realised that they contained high levels of asbestos. The new trains were returned to China causing KiwiRail to withdraw its decision to sell its older working trains – this was unfortunately a further disappointment for us.

Yet we soldiered on in our search.

In October 2013, a new tender was released in Perth for the purchase of 23 locomotives. Among the 23 trains, five stood out above the rest. These five were members of the DD Class, which were built in 1970 to transport coal in Queensland. Reviewing the history of these trains proved to us that the DD Class was a reliable model – exactly what we wanted as additions to our Rovos family. The five locomotives that we were interested in were previously sent to EDI loco works in Port Lincoln where they were stripped and rebuilt using new or overhauled spares and parts, such as power units, electrics, traction motors, bogies and main generators. The trains’ cabs were also modified beautifully and fitted with air conditioning, a microwave, fridge and bathroom facilities.

Again, Apex Industrial beat us to the punch and purchased the entire lot. We were then left with no alternative but to purchase the five locomotives from them. And so we did just that.

The next hurdle to overcome was finding suitable transport to bring our newly acquired locomotives home. This proved to be a challenge, since there weren’t many suitable options and we had to take transport costs into consideration too. Fortunately, we weren’t facing this problem alone as Apex Industrial also needed to find a suitable vessel to transport their own trains from Australia to Durban. We initially hoped that we could transport our newly purchased locomotives by rail, but due to inspection and haulage fees, we realised that this would not be a viable option. Instead, we settled on a 40km road haulage from the Forrestfield depot in Perth to the Port of Fremantle, and from Fremantle our cargo would then be shipped to Durban.

The loading date was set for December 2014 but the ship that was meant to transport our locomotives was delayed en route due to a storm off Brisbane. We were hoping that our locomotives’ voyage would resume once the storm had abated, but since it was peak holiday season and abnormal loads were banned from being transported on Australian roads at that time, we had to wait for the new business year to commence. Eventually, loading was arranged for 6 January 2015. Thankfully, it was smooth sailing from there. Seven locomotives were secured on a ship called Fairlight, bound for Durban. Two weeks later on the 26 January, Fairlight docked in Durban and unloading began. The process was relatively uncomplicated, unlike our experience in Australia. Our six locomotives were held in a holding area ready to be fuelled and prepared for the journey home to Capital Park, Pretoria.

We have gained five working locomotives while one other is in the process of being repaired. We are very pleased with the outcome of our decision, and we can’t wait to send them off on thrilling African journeys.

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Good Work Foundation Rovos Rail

South Africa Needs Education

Written by Brenda Vos

The story of how I came to know the Good Work Foundation (GWF) all started with a book. Rovos Rail is nearly 27 years old and when my parents started this business there were others taking enormous risks too. Before her recent passing, I got to meet the grand doyenne, Liz McGrath, of The Collection by Liz McGrath, and she regaled stories of attending international trade shows with my parents, none of them having a clue what they were doing, and how she thought my Dad’s vision for Rovos Rail was inspiring but mad! Another couple who were starting out at the same time, and who might also have been considered crazy for their vision, was Dave and Shan Varty of Londolozi Game Reserve. And it was their son, Boyd, who wrote the book Cathedral of the Wild that introduced me to this wonderful foundation.

Through a series of events, Boyd was educated by a formidable woman, Kate Groch, and it is Kate who pioneered this organisation. As founder of the Good Work Foundation, Kate believes in the potential of all people. “It should never matter where you are born, you must have the opportunity to fulfil your potential and to add value to your own community.”

Like Kate, we at Rovos Rail believe that education is the key to empowering South Africa’s population and a vital element in reducing poverty, crime and violence. Empowering the less fortunate in South Africa, arming them with an education, is the biggest gift all of us will ever receive. And the beauty of GWF is that they are empowering their students with digital learning: “Our philosophy is simple: deliver English literacy support in conjunction with information-communication technology access and training. If rural people are literate in the digital lingua franca and they can ‘drive’ a computer, then they have the same access to information as everyone else in the world. And that opens up opportunities that never before existed.”

I couldn’t agree more. For years I, and Rovos Rail, have been donating books and stationery to schools and it never crossed my mind that digital learning is pivotal to the success of every job applicant, which amazes me because I use my laptop and phone for everything! All the research, work, reading and news-gathering I do happens on-line so it’s fairly obvious that contributing to GWF’s digital learning centres is what is going to assist in propelling rural South Africa forward.

We recently experienced something quite profound in the history of South Africa. The University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg announced a 10% fee increase in 2016 which prompted a group of students to form a protest movement which swept across the country in a wave of discontent in most major universities and culminated in the storming of parliament in Cape Town. This 10% increase must be seen in the context of an existing fee and bursary structure that is both inaccessible and unrealistic for many young South Africans.

GWF stood in support of the message of the movement and released an official press release with powerful statements, one of them being: “The only way that wealth can be shared; the only way that we can reduce a skills gap; the only way that we can address one of the world’s most apparent inequality challenges is through ACCESS TO EDUCATION”.

Kate and her team are passionately dedicated to their work. Kate is a woman that we should all aspire to be because she’s living her truth and just getting on with it. I haven’t met her yet but she seems to be a force of nature and I look forward to the day when I get to shake her hand. In 2013 she delivered a pretty motivating Ted Talk in Edinburgh.

Our relationship with them is young but my hope is that Rovos Rail can be a driving force behind the success of GWF. It’s foundations such as GWF that are absolutely essential to keeping our country healthy, strong and moving forward. They also have one of the best websites I have ever seen and I would highly recommend a visit! 

Good Work Foundation Rovos Rail  Kate-and-Linky

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Cows at Rovos Rail

An Australian, his Bride and a Cow

We’re back and have hit the ground running in 2016! If you had a break over December then we hope it was relaxing and lovely. Our first blog post of the new year is called “An Australian, his Bride and a Cow” and it makes for a romantic and funny story! But before we embark on this tale a little background on Rovos Rail and the Vos family.

We are owned by Rohan Vos and together with his wife, Anthea, they have four children – Shaun, Brenda, Bianca and Tiffany. The bride in our story is Bianca, daughter number two, and the Australian is her new husband, Brandon.

Brandon the Australian and Bianca the bride met a few years ago and for a while traversed many countries to be together. They finally set up home and shop in Cape Town armed with not one but five dogs and now a cow.

If any of you have met Rohan or listened to one of his departures speeches then you’ll know two things: 1) He has a dry sense of humour and 2) he teases Australians and New Zealanders because of the long history of sporting rivalry between the three countries.

Bringing home an Australian could have gone either way but Rohan, after a while, started to see it as a great opportunity to practise his jokes and Brandon was the butt of all of them! The last big gag resulted in Rohan inheriting a cow. Over dinner one evening Rohan told Brandon about Lobolo, which is an African tradition in which a prospective husband or head of his family undertakes to give to the head of a prospective wife’s family property in cash or kind. Historically, this property was in cattle but over time it has moved to being mostly in cash. 

Well, Brandon took this to heart and being the serious sort of chap he is, started researching Lobolo and what kind of cattle appropriate. “A man is seen to love his partner when he strives to save and pay for lobolo in the way of an Nguni Heifer”. That decided it and he set about finding the top breeder of Nguni Heifer cows in South Africa.

A few days before Christmas Brandon put a call through to Brenda, daughter number one and his future sister-in-law, to tell her that a pregnant cow would be delivered to Rovos Rail Station in Pretoria and that she was lobolo for Bianca. Brenda works for the company and is based in Pretoria and once she had got over the initial shock (and looked around for candid cameras) she believed the story and started to prepare for delivery of one Nguni Heifer!

Mea Bella, meaning “my beautiful one” was safely delivered and is doing well. Being the social animals they are, Brenda brought in a friend for Mea, another Nguni Heifer (also pregnant) and her name is Camilla. The two roam around the property eating well and growing steadily. They have a visit from the vet every two weeks and the reports are always that they are healthy and happy. Their calves are due in early March so watch this space!

Top image: Left is Mea Bella and on the right, Camilla. Picture taken by Regárdo Lewis.

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Christmas banner

Happy Holidays!

It’s been a tough year and it seems sometimes that just as we climb one mountain we are immediately faced with another. Living in South Africa certainly has its challenges and 2015 has been particularly brutal in terms of politics. But, we’ll put that aside for now as we want to wish all of you HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

We realise that some are working straight through, that others don’t celebrate this time of year and that others simply just can’t but if you are taking some time off we hope it will be a happy holiday for you. Let there be a lovely meal, quality family time and, even though it’s generally chaotic, let there be rest.

Because there are so many of us here at Rovos Rail we had a couple of different Christmas parties as we can’t all take time off at the same time. Our train management team were treated to limos and a good lunch, our site staff enjoyed a big braai (barbecue) where they played soccer, danced and sang at the top of their lungs! The head office team had a fairly polite cocktail party in our boardroom which next year we will turn into a Winter Wonderland…even in this 40°C heat!

We have a great deal to feel grateful for as business for both the trains and our St James Guesthouses is doing well despite our government doing its best to make it as difficult as possible. Forward business is looking reasonably strong and it is certainly encouraging to note numerous enquiries coming through for 2017, mostly of course for the longer journeys with our golf tours attracting considerable attention. All in all, we are very positive about the trend and are planning accordingly for growth.

We could not do this without our loyal travel agents and tour operators who entrust us with their clients each year and to all of you we say thank you, your much valued support is greatly appreciated. To our guests, especially our Rovos Club members who travel with us on a regular basis, your loyalty does not go unnoticed and we are thankful.

Have a happy holiday, friends! We look forward to sharing a safe and prosperous 2016 with you.

Sincerely,

The Rovos Team

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Rovos Rail Train Management

Thank you, Train Managers

The train manager’s role is diverse and operating our rail journeys can be unpredictable and our managers deserve a big thank you from all of us here at Rovos Rail.

The set of skills required (and acquired) could make up an entire resume. From understanding the mechanics of each coach and what is required to keep them moving forward, overseeing a delicate and sometimes moody electrical system and the water supply to the entire train, wheels which can be a constant headache, managing a full complement of staff and maintaining balance on board with guests who are from all corners of the globe. It is not easy yet our team of train managers handle themselves with courteous professionalism, diplomacy and a level of quick and proactive thinking, which is impressive.

Collectively they have been with us for 81 years with Joe and Daphne leading the pack; Joe sees 26 years with us and Daphne, 22. Joe walked into the Victoria Hotel, a property that was the original 1893 railway hotel and one that we owned, looking for work. Rohan Vos, our CEO, asked him if he could do any carpentry work to which Joe said no. He was hired anyway and 26 years later he is still with us!

All six of our train managers have worked their way into their positions as senior management. Luxury train travel requires staff that understand the ins and outs of every aspect of the train but also of silver service as well as the challenges of overseeing guests and managing expectations.

We start all of our staff as hostesses or butlers so our train managers know how to make beds, clean bathrooms, fold laundry and towels perfectly, conduct stock takes as well as serve four-course meals along with some of South Africa’s finest wines which requires study from their side. These gathered skills are essential in managing a team of young train staff.

Behind every good manager stands his or her Deputies. It’s our Deputy Managers that take care of the finer things on board ensuring that everything is washed, polished and varnished so that the train sparkles. Rarely is there an out-of-place crease or smudged glass as our generals are perfectionists and not often do things go amiss!

It’s a tough job with many sleepless nights especially on a long journey such as Dar es Salaam. When you are reliant on external companies for your traction and service things can go wrong but our on-board warriors handle everything with an enormous amount of patience and insight.

To all of you we say thank you. Your dedication and loyalty to the dynamic roles you play is appreciated and we are grateful for your years of service.

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david_sheldrick

Elephant Rescue in Kenya

The number of animals living on the land has fallen by 40% since 1970. From forest elephants in central Africa, where poaching rates now exceed birth rates, to the Hoolock gibbon in Bangladesh and European snakes like the meadow and asp vipers, destruction of habitat has seen populations tumble. But again intensive conservation effort can turn declines around. Enter The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Born from one family’s passion for Kenya and its wilderness, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is today the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and one of the pioneering conservation organisations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.

Most of us who work at Rovos Rail are passionate about animal care and rescue. Over the years we’ve rescued and rehabilitated donkeys, horses, ostriches, pigs, goats, and of course many dogs and cats. Knowing the plight of our wildlife and realising that all we can really do from our HQ in Pretoria is to advocate, raise funds and donate, we started fostering a baby elephant called Arruba who was reported alone and trapped in March last year. You can watch her capture and rescue by clicking here.

1948 saw the beginning of David Sheldrick’s renowned career within the Royal National Parks of Kenya, where he worked unwaveringly for over two decades transforming Tsavo’s Eastern Sector, a previously unchartered and inhospitable land, into Kenya’s largest and most famous National Park. David Sheldrick stands out, even today, as one of Africa’s most famous and proficient Pioneer National Park Wardens of all time. He held his post as Warden of Tsavo East until he was transferred to head the Planning Unit for all of Kenya’s Wildlife Areas based in Nairobi at the end of 1976. Sadly David died 6 months later, but the legacy he left in Tsavo endures. For over 25 years Kenya-born Daphne Sheldrick lived and worked alongside her husband, during which time they raised and successfully rehabilitated many wild species. Daphne Sheldrick’s involvement with wildlife has spanned a lifetime, and she is now a recognised international authority on the rearing of wild creatures and is the first person to have perfected the milk formula and necessary husbandry for infant milk-dependent elephants and rhinos. Since the death of her husband, Daphne and her family have lived and worked in the Nairobi National Park, where they have built the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and its pioneering Orphans Project, into the global force for wildlife conservation that is today.

Our luxury trains travel throughout Southern Africa and on our journeys guests see a true cross section of life in South Africa as well as some of our neighbouring countries. Poverty is rife and to combat this most companies dig deep to assist with food, clothing, the building of homes, fresh water and basic education. Preserving our wildlife has always been high on our priority list and in time we hope to be able to contribute more to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust as they are on the forefront of elephant rescue and rehabilitation. There are so many ways to help too. One can donate via their website to help fund the orphan’s project, the de-snaring programme which involves eight teams, the aerial surveillance unit, the saving’s habitats project, the mobile veterinary unit and to their various community initiatives. To read further on other ways to assist click here.

Born To Be Wild   orphelinat-elephants

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