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I've been a railway fan since taking that first exciting journey via Lake Bennett and Alaska's Sawtooth Range, from Whitehorse, Yukon to Skagway at five years of age. On South Africa's Rovos Rail, and the Marrakeche express, I felt a similar thrill. Great rail tours . Railways of World . British Columbia

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Franco-Ethiopian Railway from Addis Ababa and South Africa's famous Blue Train and the Elegant Rovos Rail
by Jerry W. Bird

Jerry BirdSometimes I feel like Casey Jones, as if "Railways of the World" a series I launched in 1989, started a 'renaissance ' in rail travel. Perhaps it was ESP, because since then, many famous routes have been upgraded or restored, and new lines installed, as countless visitors rediscover the romance of the rails. Like me, these folks savor the fact that getting there is more than half the fun. Given Aladdin's 3 wishes, I would restore Emperor Haile Sellasie's 'Lion of Judah' railway engine, hook it up to the prized set of French and British coaches, and operate luxury excursion tours on the Franco-Ethiopian Railway line. Built in the 1930s, the 482 mile route stretches from Addis Ababa, via Nazaret, the Rift Valley and Dire Dawa, to Djibouti, a French protectorate on the Gulf of Aden. Photo of Haile Selassie's Lion of Judah engiine (below) by Muguette Goufrani. In a 5-minute BBC interview, hoping my message would cause a spark, I said, "Think of the much needed income such a tour would generate for the Ethiopian economy." I've followed the last decade's amazing railway renaissance.

Lion of Judah EngineAfter a visit to Emperor Selassie's palace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Addis Ababa's ornate railway station (gare) is the ideal venue for such an historic journey. Yes, the lordly Lion of Judah's engine lacks wheels, and the dust covered coaches shows neglect from being shunted aside during the Marxist regime. However, with some good old fashioned TLC (tender loving care) each museum piece would soon be in shining order. The Emperor's train is still not widely available for public view; fortunately we and our BBC friend received special permission.

Cape Town to Pretoria on Rovos Rail, Pride of Africa
by Jerry W. Bird

"The design of the train has given us suites considerably larger than the world's famous trains such as the Orient Express, the Blue Train, Royal Scotsman in England and El Andalus in Spain." Rohan Vos

One of the first lessons one learns on entering the wonderful world of Rovos Rail is that this "travel opportunity of a lifetime" is not just a South African experience -- its routes extend to five other countries on a network of steel rails. For example, there's an annual excursion to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which many rave about. On this cool January morning, however, the destination is Pretoria, South Africa's capital city and headquarters of Rovos Rail, the Pride of Africa. Our leisurely two and a half day trip north through the country's heartland, allows ample time to relax, lay back, sip the wine, smell the roses, think lofty thoughts and get to know some interesting people. Daniel Dunn, one of the Western Cape's best informed tour guides, drove us to the Cape Town station, where Rovos Rail's owner Rohan Vos and Sales Manager David Patrick greeted us, as our baggage was whisked away in a flash

What a way to celebrate the New Year: As we joined the other passengers assembled on the red-carpeted platform, a traditional toast of South African champagne and orange juice set the mood, while a trio of violinists provided soft, soothing classical musi -- a fitting background for such a memorable send off. At the microphone Mr. Vos gave a hearty and humorous "bon voyage," announcing each guest's name in turn as we boarded the train. Many nations were represented that morning - the UK, Norway, Italy, Australia, USA, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, France, South Africa and Canada. These vintage coaches have carried royalty on past tours, and we soon discovered there was a European countess among us, which reflects the company's claim "the most luxurious train in the world. A mild thunderstorm was brewing above Table Mountain, and as rain began to beat on the windows, the train pulled away from Cape Town station. Have no fear, I had a feeling that the trip would be even more enjoyable, looking out from our cozy cocoon on wheels. My intuition proved to be quite true. Continued on our Africa Travel web site.

Blue Train with 'White Glove' Service?
Only in South Africa!
by Muguette M. Goufrani

For years I had read that South Africa held many pleasures for those of an adventurous or romantic nature, so one summer, taking a month's vacation from my job as a travel agent in West Africa, I headed south. Here at last was my chance to spend some leisurely, laid back weeks getting to know that fascinating country. While the sights and delights were many and varied, the epitome was my experience aboard the famous Blue Train. It was like the finest luxury cruise, sailing across a sea of ever-changing landscapes . Yet there was time and space to savor every waking moment.

I managed to read some pamphlets about the line's history, which spans over 50 years. Back in 1928, it became the first luxury train in South Africa, operating on a line between Cape Town and Johannesburg. The trademark was its attractive bright sapphire-blue fleet of carriages. Originally known as the 'Union Limited' and 'Union Express' , a legend began when folks started calling them 'the Blue Trains'. Prior to this occasions trains on the famous route were involved in the discovery of gold and diamonds, and in the Boer War of the 1890s. Those cold, soot laden coaches were a far cry from those operating today.

More to come

Question: What about a return to Historic Street Cars as a year-round tourist attraction and revenue generator? See our series Streetcars & Street Scenes. It makes street sense.

E-mail: africa@dowco.com

Watch for more Africa Railway profiles,