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By Marizka Coetzer


Rovos Rail still not back up to full speed

Travellers and tourists will have to wait until next year before one of the most luxurious railway tours in the country is expected to be fully operational.

Rovos Rail communication manager Brenda Vos-Fitchet said, like many others in the industry, the company struggled during the pandemic.

“We had to make sad decisions and take drastic action to survive. We had to retrench staff, many of whom worked for us for many years,” she said.

During the 2019/20 tour schedule, as many as six journeys per package deal of about four operations were running per month.

Vos-Fitchet said Rovos was shut down for most of 2020.

“We have only been able to operate about three short journeys per month since,” Vos-Fitchet added.

Rovos Rail was born in 1985 when Rohan Vos attended an auction to buy a coach or two to restore four carriages and hitch them to South African Railways trains as a family caravan.

Following complications of working with the SA Transport Services administration, Vos realised he needed to be self-sufficient, so he purchased a 1938 Class 19D locomotive, which was rebuilt and named Bianca after one of his daughters.

Negotiations began with SA Railways when Vos was granted permission to run his train in December 1986.

Three years later, the train was launched, on 29 April, 1989, with a locomotive and seven carriages that carried four paying passengers, friends and press who set off for the then Eastern Transvaal, now Mpumalanga.

All the engines acquired for Rovos Rail have been named after the Vos children, Brenda, Bianca, Tiffany and Shaun, and, later, other family names.

On the 10th anniversary of Rovos Rail, the magnificently restored and rebuilt locomotive 25NC 3484, which had been converted from coal-firing to oil, was christened Marjorie after Vos’ mother.

Vos-Fitchet, who is one of the Vos daughters, said given that Rovos was mostly reliant on the international business market, it did not see itself being fully operational again until 2022.

“The tour journeys offered before the lockdown included trips to and from Cape Town, to and from Victoria Falls, to and from Durban as well as longer journeys such as African Collage, Golf Safari, and 15-day Dar es Salaam trips.”

Rovos offered various packages, including pullman, deluxe and royal, for anything from two nights to six nights from Pretoria, Cape Town or Durban to the Victoria Falls, ranging from between R22,000 to R45,000 per person sharing.

Seven-day packages to Victoria Falls ranged anything between R49,000 to R98,000 per trip sharing.

Due to the various lockdown regulations on travel, only three local trips are currently available.

A previous employee of Rovos, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was one of those retrenched during and due to Covid-19.

The employee praised his previous employers and did not want to comment on the current state of the business.

“I just really miss my job,” was all he would say.

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