The Old Diocesan Issue5 Mar2020 - Page 61

n 1999, Rohan Vos (1964S)
looked back on the first 10
years of his railway adventure
with Rovos Rail, the world’s most
luxurious passenger train. “At 53,
I’m broke,” he said. “But boy, have
I got a great train set!” From the
early trial train in 1986, through
the maiden journey that left
Pretoria on 29 April 1989 to the
first route to Victoria Falls, Rovos
Rail faced obstacles in many
different forms: banks wanting
to foreclose on loans, George
Bush the elder’s enthusiastic
prosecution of the Gulf War
in August 1990 that decimated
American bookings, uncertainty
over the future of South Africa in
the run-up to the 1994 elections…
Rohan’s first business venture
– car spare parts – was financed
by the sale of an old Packard he
had rebuilt. Witbank Auto Spares
grew quickly into a one-stop shop
for everything from wheel-nuts
to engines. He was a successful
businessman, but a last-minute
invitation to ride aboard a train
through the Magaliesberg in 1985
ignited in him a latent passion
for the joys of train travel.
By his own admission, Rohan
began his train venture with a great
deal of knowledge about things
mechanical but comparatively
little knowledge of the tourist
trade. He had sold his share in
various automotive ventures to
finance the purchase, at auction,
and refurbishment of several
original sleeper coaches and a
locomotive. Now he had to deal
with the unpredictable nature of
paying guests, the vagaries of the
rail system, inclement weather,
and government bureaucracies.
But, as he would later say, “This
unique challenge was right up my
street.” With his indefatigable wife
Anthea alongside him, Rohan set
out to not only create the greatest
train experience in Africa, but to
match the legends of international
train travel.
With South Africa emerging
as a top tourist destination in the
1990s, Rovos Rail capitalised on its
strong foundations by expanding
further into southern and east
Africa. In 1993, Rohan landed
his small plane in Dar es Salaam,
becoming the first South African
to land a private aircraft in the
country in more than 30 years.
He was promptly detained by the
authorities, until he pitched them
his grand plan. And so the Cape
Town to Dar es Salaam journey
was born.
Rohan’s fleet of locomotives
grew to fulfil the promise of these
new routes, each named after
his and Anthea’s four children:
Shaun (1994S), Brenda, Bianca
and Tiffany.
Left: Anthea and Rohan
Vos and team – all smiles
before the inaugural trip
in 1989. Opposite: A train
winds its way through the
Garden route – the type
of visual we’ve come to
expect from Rovos Rail
three decades later.

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