24 April 2007
South Africa’s famous ultra-luxury Blue Train is set to go private. State rail company Spoornet is to offer the Blue Train to investors on a long-term lease, as the operator focuses on its core business of bulk freight transportation.
According to Business Day, Public Enterprises Director-General Portia Molefe told Parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises last month that the department had received a disposal strategy from Spoornet’s parent company, Transnet, with bidding to start by the end of April.
According to the newspaper, bidding will be open to both local and international rail operators, with speculation that Chinese, Indian and British investors are interested in the sale.
“Unlike other previous privatisation attempts, the disposal of the Blue Train has received the blessing of trade unions, which see the train as not being strategic to the interests of the working class,” Business Day adds.
‘Moving five-star hotel’
The Blue Train is synonymous with the ultimate in luxury and personal service. “Kings and presidents have travelled on this magnificent moving five-star hotel,” the Blue Train website proclaims.
The train’s regular route between Pretoria and Cape Town, which includes a stop-over in Kimberley, is described as “a 27-hour journey of 1 600 kilometres through some of the most diverse and spectacular scenery offered by the African sub-continent”.
The train also offers trips between Pretoria and Zimbali Lodge outside Durban during November, and specials such as a Mother’s Day trip between Pretoria and Sun City.
There are currently two Blue Train “sets”. The one accommodates 82 guests in 41 suites, while the other carries 74 guests in 37 suites and includes a conference or observation deck at the rear of the train.
The train is the epitome of luxury, with butlers on board are ready to attend to any of the guests’ needs. Two engineers are also always on hand to share their knowledge about the train with enthusiasts or curious travellers.
According to the website, a meal on the Blue Train is an experience in itself, with the menus featuring a selection of local cuisine – from Karoo lamb and ostrich fillet to Knysna oysters – accompanied by award-winning cultivars from the Cape winelands.
The train has received numerous awards through its 61-year existence, including Diners Club platinum awards for its wine lists, a “superior status” award from the AA Grading Council, and numerous “world’s leading luxury train” awards in the World Travel Awards.
Christina Patterson, in an article published in London’s The Independent in March 2006, wrote: “Truly, the train, celebrating its 60th birthday, offers the luxury, and opulence, of another era.
“We shriek with delight over our beautiful compartments, each with its own mini wardrobe, telly and tiny bathroom. We also shriek with delight at the ‘club lounge’. In spite of our resolutions, we’re soon toasting our trip in sparkling wine and biltong.
“Perhaps the Queen, who made the same journey with Princess Margaret in 1947, did the same.”