Capital Park – A historical gem
By Linda Sparks
Rovos Rail is unique amongst private train lines in that they can boast their very own private train station.
The magnificent old building in Capital Park is a historical gem close to Pretoria’s CBD. Its renovation is part of the Rovos Rail story and a piece of South Africa’s railway heritage.
This busy hub is world-class in terms of efficiency and attention to detail and is in keeping with the style and luxury that is synonymous with the Rovos Rail standard.
Capital Park serves as the departure or arrival point for most of the train journeys and also the headquarters of Rovos Rail’s entire operation. It houses the luxurious departure lounge, offices, meeting rooms, a lecture room, a repair and maintenance depot, laundries, state-of-the-art kitchens, carriage and locomotive sheds, and well-stocked storerooms.
Stepping into the station building is like entering a bygone era, even before setting foot on the luxury train itself. The station lounge has an old-fashioned elegance and is the place where friendships between passengers are first formed or where farewells to new friends are said.
It was a massive undertaking to bring the site to its current level of excellence. Rovos Rail gave the station a full renovation to restore it back to its former glory and to preserve what little is left of the golden era of steam rail travel.
Built in 1948 it first belonged to South African Railways but when they moved their operation to another depot the station became dilapidated. When Rovos took over the site in 1999 the tracks were covered in thistles, the buildings were deserted and vandalised. The area had been earmarked for development but a comprehensive proposal from Rovos Rail’s founder Rohan Vos highlighting the economic and tourism benefits of a renovation persuaded Transnet to grant him a long lease.
The main station, a magnificent low red-brick building, was gutted, and an elegant balcony overlooking the platform was added to the façade. A new 300m platform was constructed and an authentic signal box and clock tower were erected to further enhance the ambiance.
The vast carriage and locomotive sheds were renovated to house teams of dedicated personnel who keep the stock in perfect order. This roofed workshop of 10 000m2 straddles 15 railway lines with concrete inspection pits below and is the ultimate repair and maintenance facility for any train operation.
Around the refurbished buildings, hundreds of new shrubs and over 3 000 trees were planted, to provide a lush garden setting. And to complement this a miniature farmyard with horses, donkeys and peacocks was created.
The entire renovation project was envisaged and directed by Rohan Vos himself who embraced it with the same enthusiasm he has for the trains, supported by his wife Anthea who shares his vision and passion.
Initially the site was 12 acres, but over the years it has grown steadily to the current 60. As tenants around the original site moved out, Rovos Rail negotiated leases on those properties, which then had to be rebuilt or rehabilitated. This activity, although costly, was executed with a view to Rovos Rail eventually acquiring the property from Transnet. Therefore, no corners were cut and as it stands now, the buildings and grounds are in top-level operating condition.
The property is also home to a museum with an ever-expanding collection of rail memorabilia. As custodians of a rich part of South Africa’s rail history it is the Vos family’s goal for the Rovos Rail Station to become the leading working train museum globally.
The museum is small and quaint and takes passengers back to their childhoods with an original phone box, parking meter and old trains, as well as special collector’s items that have been beautifully kept. A superb model-railway display complete with semaphore signals and a footbridge, recreates the atmosphere of a fully-fledged railway system.
A visit to the museum and a site tour of the property gives guests a glimpse into the behind the scenes nuts and bolts of the company. Passengers are encouraged to build time into their travel schedules if they would like to experience these offerings.
Capital Park has become an added highlight to a Rovos Rail journey – boarding or disembarking the train in this unique and historic atmosphere creates an element of excitement where lasting memories are made.