Rovos Rail is a private railway company operating out of Capital Park Station in Pretoria, South Africa. The Society of International Railway Travelers has regularly named the Pride of Africa, as the train is called, as one of the World's Top 25 Trains because of its excellent accommodation, public spaces, service, dining and off-train sightseeing.
Rovos Rail runs its train-hotel to a regular schedule on various routes throughout Southern Africa, from South Africa to Namibia and Tanzania. The trains consist of restored Rhodesia Railways (NRZ) coaches with two lounges, two restaurant cars, private sleeping compartments, each with private ensuite facilities. The train has three types of accommodation on board, the smallest being a Pullman, at 76 square feet; the largest being the Royal Suite, which is half a train car, and 172 square feet. All types of cabins have ensuite shower, sink and toilet. The Royal also has a Victorian-style bathtub.
The company was started in 1989 by Rohan Vos and is still family owned. Rovos Rail employs a staff of 210 including the on-board staff to those working to restore carriages in the company's Capital Park depot.
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.”