Sandstone Heritage Trust - Rail News

RN 187 - Rovos Rail visits Sandstone

17th June 2006

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The familiar green and white colours of the prestigious Rovos Rail “Pride of Africa” tourist train brought life to the Bloemfontein to Bethlehem line on Friday June 16th with a stopover in Ficksburg for a visit to the Sandstone narrow gauge line. Chartered by British tour operators, The Railway Touring Company (RTC), for a predominately steam hauled tour of the northern part of South Africa, the Rovos train was hauled by the Rovos Rail class 25NC no: 3484 from Pretoria as far as Bloemfontein where the loco succumbed to on going problems with its oil burning system.

The tour was planned to arrive on Thursday evening but a switch to diesel haulage meant a late arrival at Ficksburg. A sunset cruise at Sandstone behind the 1895 built Lawley 4-4-0 no: BR7 had to be cancelled but the guests made an early start on Friday to enjoy a morning of narrow gauge steam on the Sandstone system. Although there were few hardened rail enthusiasts on board, the majority of the international tour guests led by Rohan Vos and Andrew Clarke of RTC braved the early morning Free State temperatures to capture some magnificent shots from sunrise to lunchtime.

Class NG15 no: 17 and class NGG16 no: 153 hauled trains which leapfrogged each other between Hoekfontein, Grootdraai and Vailima for a number of photographic opportunities orchestrated by master photographers, Dennis Moore and Dr. David Benn. A full freight was hauled by no: 17 while mixed stock trailed no: 153.

After a sunrise shot at Hoekfontein, the two trains moved through to Grootdraai for some extensive combination pictures of the two trains on the balloon. The Sandstone oxen were inspanned for a number of shots whilst a number of the Sandstone military collection were on hand to add to the experience.

After a break for tea at Hoekfontein and a chance to admire the vintage tractor and vehicle display, the group were joined by some more Rovos guests and photography continued through to Pandora where Chris Wilson added to the period atmosphere with a vintage tractor ploughing as the trains climbed Pandora bank.
Although acclimatised to the luxuries of the Rovos train the tour group soon adapted to the narrow gauge and even travelled for a short distance in the open B bogies hauled by no: 17.

On their return to Hoekfontein the Rovos guests toured the vintage tractor display and locomotive workshop where a number of other locomotives were in steam and on display including the O&K, Little Bess and the Lawley which hauled a short train to Grootdraai to substitute for the missed trip on the Thursday evening.
All the guests were extremely impressed by the Sandstone experience and many expressed a desire to return again.

During the stopover at Ficksburg, the Rovos 25NC had been repaired at Bloemfontein and came through, light engine, to head the 14h30 Rovos Rail departure to Bethlehem. Rohan Vos gave the Sandstone team a guided tour of the train, which comprised a number of new coaches and passenger accommodation options recently introduced to the company. The overall impression is one of opulence and luxury which is what makes Rovos Rail one of the leading rail tourism operators (if not the best) in the world.

After departure the 25NC sadly failed again and the train had to be diesel hauled through to Bethlehem.
The Sandstone connection continues, though, on the tour as Sandstone’s GMAM Garratt no: 4079 “Lyndie Lou”, on loan to Rovos Rail, will haul the train on the final few days of its journey from Waterval Boven through to Pretoria.

Sandstone would like to thank Rovos Rail and The Railway Touring Company for the visit and the invaluable help given to the locomotive department by Shaun and Pat Ackerman and At de Necker with driving duties. Our thanks also go to Jan Fouche and his two sons for assistance with the military vehicle display and to the Sandstone team who made it all possible.