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South Africa Safari

The Blue Train

Pretoria, South Africa

The Blue Train: Luxury Travel in South Africa
Return to Train Travel Safaris          © The Blue Train

View images of The Blue Train: Blue Train Images
The Blue Train Routes: Blue Train Routes

The Blue Train, South AfricaThe Blue Train is unique - it is not merely a train but combines the luxury of the world's leading hotels with the charm of train travel. Think of it as an all inclusive luxury rail cruise with an opportunity to view South Africa's spectacular landscapes and visit interesting tourist attractions along the way.

Take a journey into a timeless world of grace, elegance and romance, where spectacular scenery stirs your imagination and luxurious comfort soothes your body and soul. Sit back, de-stress and relax.

This unique luxury recreation and business experience takes you where you want to go in an endless, five-star splendor. It pauses only to pick up prestigious World Travel awards for being a cut above the rest and the Diner's Club accolade for its connoisseur selection of South African wines. The Blue Train cuisine puts sheer good taste on a plate while butler personal attention puts you on a pedestal.

It's a journey of a lifetime for those who appreciate finer things in life.

The Blue Train - 1998South Africa boasts a major international tourist attraction with the re-launch (September 1997) of a magnificent new Blue Train, voted "The World's Leading Luxury Train" at the World Travel Awards, for four consecutive years.

This is not merely a train but combines the luxury of one of the world's leading hotels with the charm of train travel. Think of it as an all inclusive luxury rail cruise with an opportunity to view South Africa's spectacular landscapes and visit interesting tourist attractions along the way. Once you are on board The Blue Train, you won't need an extra penny except to acquire personal gifts such as exquisite jewelry and The Blue Train branded mementos.

Since its launch in 1946, The Blue Train has been synonymous with elegance and luxury and this latest incarnation is guaranteed to make it the focus of global attention. With interiors created by a leading interior architectural design company, the new Blue Train rivals many a five-star hotel in terms of grace, ambiance, comfort and style. The suites have been superbly redesigned to offer discerning guests and travelers the best that modern technology and superior craftsmanship can offer.

Finally, to ensure the ultimate in hospitality, professionally trained personnel are on call for guests in each suite 24 hours a day. The 380-meter long (416 yards) train has 18 carriages, which accommodates up to 82 passengers and travels at a maximum speed of 110km/h (68mph).

ROUTES            For Complete Blue Train Route Details, click Blue Train ROUTES
The Blue Train operates a total of four routes. Offering the biggest attractions are, Pretoria to Cape Town or vice versa (1,600 kilometers or 994 miles), with guests spending one night on the train. Pretoria to Victoria Falls or vice versa (1,596km or 991 miles) offers a discerning traveler a glimpse of some of Southern Africa's natural beauties such as the great plains of the South West and Victoria Falls. During this trip, guests get to spend two nights on board The Blue Train.

SUITES            For images of The Blue Train, click Blue Train Images
Blue Train Deluxe twin-beds suite by dayWith interiors created by a leading interior architectural design company, The Blue Train will rival many a five-star hotel in terms of elegance, grace, comfort and style. The suites have been superbly redesigned to offer discerning guests the best that modern technology and superior craftsmanship can provide.

Each Blue Train suite has a fully appointed en-suite bathroom, featuring either a bath or a shower. All suites are equipped with telephone, television monitor and individually controlled air-conditioning. A video channel allows guests to access short documentaries about the area through which the train is traveling.

The suites are fitted with water cooled air-conditioning system. Each suite has its own fresh air intake and individual coolant system. The passages are also air-conditioned with the same systems. Both suites and passages have the temperature adjusters and air speed regulators for individual preferred setting. During cold periods, all the systems are provided with heating cycles, not only from the air conditioning unit but also via under floor heating.

Guests may choose between a Deluxe and a Luxury accommodation.
DeLuxe Accommodation:
Choice of twin-beds suite with a shower or a double-bed suite with a three-quarter size bath.

Luxury Accommodation:
Choice of twin-beds or double bed, and a full size bath with hand shower. Luxury suites are also equipped with CD players and video machines.

Blue Train Main LoungeEach Blue Train has two lounges: the main lounge and the Club lounge. The Club lounge, has a more masculine ambiance and is expected to find flavour with those seeking a peaceful place for after-dinner cognacs, coffees or cigars. This area is the only section of the train designated for smokers. High tea is served each afternoon in the main lounge.

Another attraction of the opulent main lounge is the giant-size TV monitor revealing the unfolding scenery of the track ahead, courtesy of a camera mounted onto the front of the locomotive. The ambiance of the lounges is one of warm elegance. Large windows allow for panoramic views of the passing countryside.

The second Blue Train has a third lounge, which can be used as a 22 seater conference facility with laptop computer, overhead projector, video, slide facilities and other modern equipment that can cater for various types of meetings and conferences. If not used for conferencing, this lounge can be converted into an observation car.

All lounges are fitted with gas filled air conditioning systems. The temperature is centrally adjusted to a desired coolant temperature. During cooler periods, the under-floor heating provides guests with desired temperature to ensure their comfort at all times.

Blue Train Dining CarA sophisticated, opulent atmosphere, gourmet menu and the finest South African wines sourced from boutique vineyards, make dining on The Blue Train a magnificent experience. The Blue Train's own creative team of chefs have created a menu to delight the most discerning palate.

Only the freshest ingredients meet The Blue Train standards. Meals and snacks are prepared in the streamlined kitchen, designed to The Blue Train engineers' exacting specifications.

Guests are offered a choice of entrees, soups, fish, meat dishes, desserts, coffee and cheese platters, all beautifully presented. Typically, South African cuisine includes, Karoo lamb, kabeljou, Knysna oysters, snoek, crayfish and impala. Also offered is an abundant array of the finest South African fruit and vegetables. Vegetarian, Kosher and Halaal meals are provided on request.

The Blue Train is a showcase for South African wines which have been selected to complement each course on the menu after meticulous consultation with top South African wine experts.

Breakfast, lunch and supper are the main meals and high tea is served each afternoon in the main lounge. During high tea, various snacks are served - these include cucumber sandwiches, dainty cakes, fresh scones and cream and other irresistible delicacies with an assortment of fine teas and coffees.

The Blue Train is equipped with the finest bone china, cut-crystal glasses and classic silver cutlery engraved with the familiar insignia. Dew-fresh flowers add emphasis to the attention to detail. After a spectacular African sunset, the individual lighting on each table gently highlights the beautifully detailed burled wood paneling and original South African artworks.

The Blue Train has A maximum of 4 suites per coach.

To ensure the ultimate in hospitality, each coach has a professionally trained butler who is on call for guests in each suite to attend to their every need. The butlers are there to ensure that your journey is as memorable and comfortable as possible.

The Train Manager is also on call at all times. Guests can contact him anytime they require assistance on any matter; or when they require information pertaining to their journey.

The Blue Train on-board services include:
A variety of delicious snacks and beverages served in the suites, on request, by butlers;
A limited on-board laundry and valet service;
Safes are provided in all suites for the safe keeping of your valuable belongings;
A luggage van is available to store any additional luggage that a guest will not need during the journey.
All these services are included in the fare.

Trained first aid personnel are on board at all times. In the event of an emergency, doctors and medical personnel can be contacted at the various stations en-route; or flown in by helicopter.

Two engineers with specialized expertise on luxury trains are always on board The Blue Train and are happy to share their knowledge with train enthusiasts.

The telephone beside each bed allows guests to dial the Train Manager, the personal butler or the butler on duty 24 hours a day. Should a guest wish to make an external call (local or international), the staff will gladly assist them in doing so at a nominal cost. Fax facilities are also available on board.

The 1930 Union Limited locomotiveSouthbound, the train with its distinctive sapphire-blue carriages, was known as the 'Union Limited', and on its return journey, the 'Union Express'. People soon began referring to them as 'those Blue Trains' and so ...a legend was born. The Blue Train celebrated its 50th anniversary in February 1996. Although officially named The Blue Train in 1946, the train's enthusiasts trace its history to the 1890's and the discovery of diamonds and gold.

Before the turn of the century, advertisements, offering direct-route journeys to the gold and diamond fields of South Africa, were couched invitingly: "England to Johannesburg in 19 days, the first 17 across the ocean on board a Union or Castle line vessel to Cape Town, the remaining 2 on a train steaming through mountains and valleys and over the South African veld to Kimberley and the Reef."

"It is not difficult to imagine what conditions must have been like on these early trains. The extremes of heat and cold, the dust, the multiplicity of insects and the smoke and coal dust from the locomotive would all have added up to an experience of tedious discomfort," writes author David Robbins in The Blue Train (Viking).

Kimberley station in 1947But the accommodation and level of passenger comfort on the trains soon improved as the first years of the 20th century brought a new breed of trains which were considered to be the most luxurious anywhere in the world at the time.

These were the luxury precursors of today's Blue Train. While the hoi polloi roughed it with smut in the eye, prospectors and men of means were able to disembark at Table Bay and climb straight onto a train which boasted showers, washrooms, electric lighting, fans, oak-paneled dining saloons, smoking and card rooms. The Imperial Mail and the African Express were among the lines which provided these special services.

At the same time Cecil John Rhodes, who built his influence and wealth on the Kimberley diamond fields and who founded the De Beers Mining Company in 1880, was forging ahead with his dream of 'painting the map red', an euphemism for extending the British Empire. His dream was of a Trans-African railway between Cape Town and Cairo. Although this never materialized, he achieved the construction of a line between South Africa and, the then Congo Free State, formerly known as Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Soon after the turn of the century, the railway line from Cape Town reached Victoria Falls, enabling the luxurious Zambezi Express to make excursions there as The Blue Train does now, almost a century later. The Imperial Mail and the African and Zambezi Express trains were on par for comfort and champagne service.

The first electric locomotive in 1925By the early 1920s, however, the luxury Cape Town to Johannesburg trains were called the Union trains, with the Union Express running from Cape Town to the Reef and the Union Limited traveling the return route. Their accommodation became even more luxurious and spacious with the introduction in 1928 of articulated coaches equipped with heating, hot and cold water, bunk lights and bells for the summoning of the coach attendant.

In 1933, a new dining saloon called Protea was introduced on the Union trains. The new coach and attendant kitchen car were advanced in design and had revolutionary suspension. To demonstrate the smooth-running qualities of these coaches, a glass of water was filled to within 6,4 millimeters (0,2 in) of the brim during a test run. After more than 190km (118 miles) traveling at considerable speed, not a drop had been spilt.

The exterior of Protea was finished in very distinctive colors: azure and cream with a silver roof. By 1936, both the Union Express and Union Limited were painted in the same livery. Three years later, new train sets made in England were placed in service. Luxury all-steel, air- conditioned trains, they were finished in blue and grey and became even more popularly known as "those blue trains".

World War II caused a suspension of service which was only resumed in 1946.

The Blue Train in 1960"The Blue Trains re-emerged as the premier express between the mail-boats in Cape Town and the industrial and economic hub of the country some 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) to the north- east. Only this time, the locomotives which hauled them carried a new name board: Blue Train," writes Robbins.

Steam reluctantly gave way to electrification and diesel as the grand all-steel blue icon adapted to progress, tirelessly journeying backwards and forwards. More and more people booked on The Blue Train for the sheer pleasure of the experience rather than the business orientation of its early history.

But time and wear was taking its toll on the grand old train and in 1965, the decision to build a new Blue Train was taken by railways management and detailed design specifications were prepared. The opening paragraph of the specification document summed up the intent as follows: "These trains are to be of a standard of luxury and quality of material and workmanship equal to the best in the world."

Tenders came in from all over the world but it was the South African Union Carriage & Wagon Company outside Nigel (45km or 28 miles - east of Johannesburg) that won the commission in 1968. While the new train was being created, a Blue Train Anniversary Special set off on a historic run from Johannesburg to Cape Town on April 11, 1969. It was a memorable occasion with two mighty old steam steeds - the 16E 855 and 16E 859 - resurrected to pull the train.

The dining car -1960The sense of gaiety on the platform next to the locomotive was briefly tempered by a scene, both heart warming and nostalgic. A contingent of retired drivers had formed up alongside the 16E to have a group photograph taken. Most of these men had, in their day, driven The Blue Train or its predecessors like the Union Limited. What memories must have come rushing through their minds as they saw a steam locomotive once again at the head of South Africa's crack express.

The second generation Blue Train was completed in 1972. It became a symbol of luxury, sophistication and technological progress. Largely constructed by South Africans, the train incorporated the latest railway technology from Britain and Germany.

Beyond the technology, The Blue Train's reputation for comfort, excellent service, food, punctuality, Irish linen, crystal and silverware in the heart of some of the world's most rugged and spectacular scenery, soon spread around the world.

But in 1995, after 25 years of service, the time had come to build a new Blue Train. On August 1st, 1997, the third incarnation of The Blue Train glided out of Cape Town station heralding a new era in the history of luxury train travel. On 5 October 1998, the second new Blue Train commenced from Pretoria.

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