After a short drive, I pulled into the station car park. Much to my surprise, I was welcomed with a fanfare of beautiful music, a freshly rolled out red carpet and staff dressed very smartly with beaming smiles upon their faces. I sat in the car for a moment, gathering my thoughts – in all honesty, it was going through my mind how on earth they knew I’d be visiting today, when I’d only decided on the unprompted visit 30 minutes earlier.
As it happens (and a little disappointedly), the welcome party was not for me but instead was in place for the arrival of a train which had left Cape Town two days earlier. It was just magnificent watching passengers disembarking the train with smiles from ear to ear. Champagne flowed, string quartets played and delicious-looking platters of canapés were merrily consumed. The scenes I was witnessing were from a bygone era, where opulence and extravagance were to be embraced.
Luckily for me, there was also a group of Titan travellers aboard the train. It was a real pleasure to talk to a number of these guests and discover how their adventure through South Africa had gone so far. Needless to say, many mentioned Rovos Rail as their highlight to-date.
Whilst we chatted, we were joined by Rohan Vos, the founder of the Rovos Rail Company (which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year). Rohan very kindly invited everyone on a tour of his station and the engine sheds beyond, to catch a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes to get these splendid locomotives onto the rails.
We jumped at the opportunity of a tour and – after donning our yellow high-vis jackets – we ventured away from the comfort of the station to the working yards, where the engines and carriages lay in wait.
It was explained that Rovos Rail purchase discarded train engines and carriages from around the world – and they’re often in a terrible state of repair. The employees at Rovos Rail, who mainly come from the local communities in and around Pretoria, then set to work lovingly restoring them to their former glory.
Nearly everything is done on site, from restoring 100-year-old locomotives and replacing worn out brakes, to the making of the wooden toilet seats (which surprised many of the guests!). The sheer commitment and solidarity of the staff at Rovos Rail is breathtaking and clear to see across every aspect of the operation.
During the tour it was clear to see the passion Rohan has for his rail fleet. I personally enjoyed witnessing the pleasure the Titan travellers got from talking through the many elements of this staggering operation. Within the group there was a real enthusiasm and fascination for locomotives.
If you ever embark on our ‘Tracks of Africa’ journey and share a passion for locomotives, then please enquire on board the train whether it’s possible to take a tour of the Pretoria station. I am positive it will not disappoint and will offer a different view of the experience you would have just enjoyed. Plus, if Rohan is available it would make his day to talk about his passion to enthusiastic ears!