Cape Town - South Africa's iconic luxury rail service, the Rovos Rail, recently purchased the Shongololo Express train of 19 coaches and agreed to employ all the personnel, the luxury coach company announced.
Where their market was previously aimed only at high-end 5-star luxury-seeking passengers, Rovos Rail has now extended the brand to accommodate travellers seeking a 3-star rail travel experience.
“Operating a three-star train had always been at the back of my mind," Rohan Vos, founder and CEO of the Rovos Rail Group says. "When I learned that the Shongololo Express was on offer the timing seemed serendipitous and so an opportunity not to be missed."
And they aren't wasting a minute to realise this dream.
The old Shongololo Express train has already been repainted in green and cream and an additional dining car plus an observation car have been added. The accommodation of six Emerald suites (± 10sqm) and 30 Gold cabins (± 7sqm) of the old train will remain as is.
The three itineraries of the original Shongololo Express, Southern Cross – Pretoria to Victoria Falls (12 days), Dune Express – Pretoria to Swakopmund (12 days), Good-Hope – Pretoria to Cape Town (15 days) have been rebuilt with more stationary time at night and less road time spent on the excursions, Rovos Rail says.
The Shongololo is doing a Southern Cross and Good Hope Golf trips as part of Rovos Rail this year already, "with the Dune Express itinerary commencing in 2017," Brenda Vos from Rovos Rail says.
A few games of golf has been introduced to the old Shongololo Express Good-Hope trip, and this tour has been renamed the Good-Hope Golf by Rovos Rail. This route now offers stopovers at courses such as the Arabella Golf Estate, Ernie Els Oubaai, Fancourt, Champagne Sports Resort, Durban Country Club, Zimbali, Royal Swazi and Leopard Creek.
All journeys are available in reverse and, as before, guests can purchase optional extras that include visits to cultural, historical or heritage sites and overnight stays at safari lodges. The rates on the Shongololo Express does not include lunches, beverages and laundry.
Rovos Rail's new business venture will certainly come as a relief to mid-class rail passengers in South Africa who have been left disappointed by the Prasa-operated Shosholoza Meyl.
Shosholoza Meyl offers relatively affordable rail travel across the country, but over the past holiday season especially, paying passengers on this service were left to their own devices on the trains.
Faulty train locomotives, lack of water and sanitation services and a short-supply of food and drinking water has become standard on this service, with some passengers saying they will not board a Shosholoza Meyl couch ever again.
SEE: More Shosholoza Meyl horror as passengers are delayed over 36 hours, costing them thousands
Rovos Rail's new three-star offering, albeit much more expensive than a Shosholoza Meyl ticket, will certainly appeal to mid-range travellers.
“A three-star product offering will be different for us and I’m sure there will be a few initial teething problems but we’ve been doing this for 28 years so I think we will be able to manage this exciting new adventure”, Rohan says.
A three-day safari trip on the original Rovos Rail, between Pretoria and Durban in the cheapest cabin, a Pullman, will cost travellers around R17 400 per person, while the 15-day trip from Cape Town to Dar es Salaam costs around R182 000 per person sharing.
In comparison, on the newly acquired Shongololo Express, the Southern Cross route from Pretoria to the Victoria Falls, which takes 12 days, will only cost around R52 000 per person sharing.
The cabin dimensions on the Rovos Rail are the same size as those available on the Shongololo Express.
The Rovos Rail has been recognised as one of the most luxurious trains on the globe.
SEEPICS: Our Top 10 favourite luxury trains on the globe
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