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World's Most Beautiful Rail Journeys by Priyanka ,  Jul 18, 2013

Sick to death of the screaming kids and stale farts of budget airlines but still terrified by the idea of 18 hour bus trips? Welcome to the peaceful, relaxing reality of the world's greatest train journeys.

'You'll have a job, love, there's no bridge...'

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Europe

Popularlyknown as the Orient Express, this privately owned, rolling palace is the standard against which all luxury train journeys are measured. An icon of Art Deco design, to step aboard this elegant creature of supreme comfort is to step back in time to a more elegant and refined age. During the London to Venice journey enjoy the comfort of luxury Pullman carriages, banquets for every meal and the kind of service normally reserved for heads of State. Don’t forget to dress for dinner.

The Royal Scotsman, Scotland

Perhaps the world’s most exclusive train journey, the Scotsman carries only 36 passengers at a time in 16 twin and four single, mahogany clad, Edwardian berths. Part luxury travel, part gentleman’s club the train’s observation carriage is all about cosy sofas and invigorating drams as you pass through pine clad mountains and still, eerie lochs. Then, as night falls, the train pulls into a siding to give you the most restful night’s sleep you’ll ever get on rails.

Coast Starlight, USA

Perhaps the most scenic of all train routes, the Coast Starlight links Seattle to Los Angeles, travelling along the Pacific Coastline in the shadow of the snow capped Cascade Mountains and across the San Francisco Bay. As a bonus there is also a daily tasting of local wines from the regions you travel through.

Great South Pacific Express, Australia

Riding Australia’s eastern seaboard from Sydney to Cairns, the Great South Pacific Express is known as the Antipodean Orient Express. Up to 20 carriages long and comprising en suite sleeping carriages, restaurant cars and an open air observation deck, the service is personal with a steward in every carriage. The trip’s highlight however is a helicopter-lift day trip to the Great Barrier Reef.

To combat the altitude, the train supplements thinning oxygen levels with gas pumped into the carriages, as well as offering personal cylinders for those feeling light headed.

Rocky Mountaineer, Canada

Voted among National Geographic’s ‘Journey’s of a Lifetime’, the Rocky Mountaineer twists and turns its way through some of Canada’s most dramatic landscapes. Taking in Banff’s glacial peaks and the awesome Hells Gate gorge, this journey reveals nature at its very best. However, the man-made Spiral Tunnels, cut through the Canadian Rockies in the 1900s, are among the most impressive feats of engineering of the 20th century.

GlacierExpress, Switzerland

This ‘express’ train takes a mere eight hours to cover the 180 mile (290 km) journey from Zermatt to St Moritz, which isn’t bad when you consider this trip requires climbs of some 5000 ft (1524 metres) as well as 291 bridge crossings (including both the Rhine and Rhone), 91 tunnels and finally a traversing of the 6,700 foot high (2042 metres) Oberlap Pass. It is also probably the most relaxing journey you will ever take.

Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia

Crossing seven time zones on its 6000 mile (9656 km) journey from Asia, across Russia into Europe, the Trans-Siberian takes eight whole days and nights to complete its now iconic journey. Those in the know book one of the ex-Politburo carriages which come equipped with two bedrooms, a private sitting room and dedicated chef.

Copper Canyon Railway, Mexico

While perhaps lacking some of the luxury of other routes on this list, the Chihuahua al Pacífico, or Chepe, is an engineering marvel that took almost 90 years to complete. Opened, finally, in 1961 the line covers 390 miles (628 km) from the desert of Chihuahua to the Pacific Ocean, over 39 bridges and through 86 tunnels in some of Mexico’s most rugged terrain. Find a seat on the right hand side of this train and enjoy the ride.

291 bridge crossings, 91 tunnels and finally a traversing of the 6,700 foot high Oberlap Pass. It is probably the most relaxing journey you will ever take.

The Hiram Bingham, Peru

It takes four days to hike up to the ruins at Machu Picchu – or you could take Peru’s most luxury train and enjoy five star service all the way to the summit. Named after the American explorer who discovered the lost Inca city in 1911, the Hiram Bingham leaves Cusco in the early morning, provides you with a guide to the lost city for the afternoon and then returns you to modern civilisation with cocktails and a four course meal in the evening.

Sky Train, Tibet/China

A journey to the roof of the world, the Beijing express to Lhasa in Tibet takes two days, with 80% of the journey taking place at elevations above 13,000 feet (3962 metres). To combat the altitude, the train supplements thinning oxygen levels with gas pumped into the carriages, as well as offering personal cylinders for those feeling light headed. The engineering obsession of every Chinese leader since Mao, the line finally opened in 2006.

Palace on Wheels, India

A trip back in time to the days of the Raj this seven day train journey includes an elephant welcome in Jaipur, lunch at the Lake Palace in Udaipur, a camel safari near Jaisalmer and an afternoon at the Taj Mahal in Agra. A heady mix of Rajasthani textiles and aromatic curries (with continental options for the more timid) this is certainly one of the top ten train journeys of the world.

Blue Train, South Africa

Carrying a staff of 27 for just 84 passengers, including a personal butler on call 24 hours a day, on the Blue Train you need never be alone – unless you want to be. Taking luxury service to new heights, the classic Pretoria to Cape Town route serves up moon rises over the Karoo desert and the majesty of Table Top mountain, all accompanied by the finest wines the region has to offer.

In a new golden age of long-distance train travel, classic luxury tours are more popular than ever, and new routes are opening up some unexplored parts of the world.

Table Mountain, South Africa

Table Mountain, South Africa

Personally, I blame Marc Jacobs-clad Adrien Brody in Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited. There’s also the growing trend for a slower, more experiential way of travelling, where the journey is as important as the arrival – a reaction against those ridiculous long-haul short breaks that have become so popular among ‘high rollers’ over the past few years. And then there is the sheer number of opportunities out there – from the ‘luxury touring train’ services that are effectively a reinvention of the maritime cruise, to humbler day trains offering glorious scenery and a few precious hours of downtime.

UK and Ireland

The Royal Scotsman

There are two reasons why the Royal Scotsman’s Western journey (royalscotsman.com) is considered the loveliest in the British Isles. One is the route. Kicking off in Edinburgh, it potters past Glasgow to join the West Highland Line all the way up to the pretty fishing village of Mallaig, taking in spine-tinglingly rugged swaths of the Highlands, glassy Loch Lomond, brooding Ben Nevis and the glorious Glenfinnan Viaduct of Harry Potter fame. Stops include one for tea at Inverlochy Castle and another to pop over to the beautiful Isle of Bute.

The other is the train itself – the tartan-upholstered Royal Scotsman, managed by Orient-Express, is a country-house hotel on rails sleeping 36, with two elegant dining carriages and an observation car with a veranda viewing platform. Running from April to October, the Royal Scotsman offers journeys of two to seven nights, covering several routes around the Highlands. New for 2013 is the Classic Whisky Journey (departing April 21), in association with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which will include visits to Scottish stilleries led by a whisky expert.

At the other end of the spectrum in terms of luxury but nevertheless a rival for the most exquisite views, the Translink from Belfast to Derry (translink.co.uk, £11 each way or £16.50 for a day return) in Northern Ireland was cited by Michael Palin as ‘one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world’. After an eight-month closure for upgrading, the service reopens this month and is an excellent way to arrive in Derry – this year’s European City of Culture. Be patient until Coleraine, after which you will be rewarded with beautiful ocean views and some of Ireland’s loveliest sandy beaches along Lough Foyle. Then there is the dramatic Bine­-venagh Mountain and the waterfall-spattered cliffs at Down­hill before the track eventually skirts the edge of the Foyle Estuary as you glide into the city centre, past Derry’s new Peace Bridge.

Australia

The east-west Indian Pacific line in Australia

With such vast tracts of wilderness, rail is an excellent way to explore Australia, especially as there are two routes that slice perfectly through the country: the elegantly luxurious Ghan, which runs from Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the north; and the Indian Pacific (so called because it joins the two oceans), which travels east to west between Sydney and Perth (both greatsouthernrail.com.au).

Formerly called the Afghan Express, after the teams of camel-drivers who were instrumental in opening up Australia’s interior in the late 19th century, the Ghan offers a 1,864-mile adventure taking three days, stopping halfway at Alice Springs and providing the most extraordinary natural contrasts.

There’s the fertile south with its wine country and railway towns, then the bush and rolling sand dunes of the Red Centre, where you can hop off to see Uluru, have a go at quad biking and more, then finally the tropical north with its old gold-mining towns, spectacular wetlands and escarpments. The train combines modern suites finished in polished Tasmanian myrtle with double beds, writing-desks and panoramic windows with an Edwardian dining carriage and the Outback Explorer Lounge.

The Indian Pacific travels 2,704 miles in about 65 hours, from Sydney through Adelaide to Perth. One minute you’re enjoying the cliffs, valleys, forests and waterfalls of the Blue Mountains, the next, the arid New South Wales outback, arriving at Broken Hill, a mining town turned artists’ colony, the following morning, and on to Adelaide, Kalgoorlie and then Perth, which is closer to Singapore than it is to Sydney.

Africa

The lounge car in South Africa's Blue Train

There are two excellent luxury trains in South Africa. Both glide up the centre of the country between Cape Town and Pretoria (near Johannesburg), taking in some of the most spectacular scenery on the continent. The fastest and poshest is the all-en-suite Blue Train (bluetrain.co.za), which covers 994 miles in 27 hours, with one stop in each direction – the fashionable old town of Matjiesfontein in the Karoo on the northbound journey, and the historic diamond-mining town of Kimberley on the journey back. It's the glitzier of the two, with baths in many of the suites, personal butler service, unlimited, outstanding food, drink and handmade Cuban cigars, and, on many of the trips, an observation car. The alternative, Rovos Rail (rovos.com), is equally lovely in a more classic way and feels like stepping back into the Victorian era. As well as Cape Town to Pretoria, its routes in southern Africa take in Namibia and Tanzania.

Asia

The Golden Chariot in southern India

India has a string of luxury trains on offer, whisking people to some of its most remote corners with a minimum of air-conditioned, dust-free fuss. Several services – generally launched to much fanfare – have come and gone, but the stalwarts remain. While the trailblazer, the Palace on Wheels (palaceonwheels.co.uk), is still a wonderful way to explore Rajasthan, the best is probably the Golden Chariot (thegoldenchariot.co.in), which offers two different circuits in southern India, the most enticing being an eight-day journey between Bangalore and Goa, taking in the beautiful, less-explored state of Karnataka on a route that would be virtually impossible to do by road. The trip also combines explorations of cities and temple towns with a tiger safari and a laidback beach holiday. Interior design is royal-palace inspired, and its 44 elegant, air-conditioned cabins have hand-carved wooden panels and hand-woven silk sheets.

For a more bite-sized experience, try the day-long chug through the lower reaches of the Eastern Himalayas in West Bengal between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, aboard the Darjeeling Toy Train (dhr.in), an atmospheric vintage narrow-gauge train that looks like Thomas the Tank Engine and costs about £3.50 in first class and 60p in second.

Forget leisurely sightseeing, at 300km/h, Japan’s Bullet Train (bullettrain.com) between Tokyo and Kyoto seems faster than a speeding bullet and twice as sleek. Yes, there are gorgeous views of Mount Fuji (ask the conductor exactly what time you’ll pass it and on which side of the train, or you’ll miss it), and you get the chance to compare the architecture of the bigger cities you pass, such as Nagoya, with the smaller towns, but it’s more about the choice of regional bento boxes from Ekiben-ya Matsuri at the station in Tokyo to enjoy on your journey; the impeccably dressed, courteous conductors who tip their hats each time they check a ticket; the cleaners dressed in pink who hop on at each station for a quick dust; and the almost absurd smoothness and punctuality of the train service itself. There are two bullet trains – one takes 140 minutes to reach Kyoto, the other 160 minutes.

Europe

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

It would be madness not to include London to Venice aboard the classic Art Deco Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (vsoe.com) – a benchmark in vintage loveliness and the perfect beginning or end to a short break in Venice. The one-night trip starts mid-morning on the first day and arrives late afternoon the next, in both directions. After leaving London Victoria aboard the British Pullman, brunch on table, bellini in hand, you glide across the Channel in regal splendour before boarding the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in time for a four-course dinner served by white-gloved, liveried stewards in one of the beautifully restored wood-panelled restaurant carriages.

Your cabin, meanwhile, has been transformed into a cosy bedroom, for you to retire to. The next day you can admire the Swiss Alps over breakfast. A morning of pottering on board is followed by a leisurely lunch then an afternoon viewing the Italian Dolomites and taking high tea before the train crosses the Venetian Lagoon and pulls into Santa Lucia station. A number of variations include, for example, Paris to Istanbul, Venice to London via Kraków and Dresden, and – new this year – a series going into the heart of Scandinavia, including Venice to Stockholm via Copenhagen.

When the former British Rail employee and co-founder of the travel company Great Rail Journeys Howard Trinder launched the Danube Express (danube-express.com) in collaboration with Hungarian Railways four years ago, he claimed it was the most luxurious hotel-on-wheels in Europe. At first glance, it doesn’t look like it, but its bedrooms are en suite, which is a major boon when you consider that on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express although cabins have running water, loos and showers are at the end of each carriage.

Sleeping 50, the Danube Express combines modern comforts with a central European retro-chic and a colourful cast of Hungarian staff that on my trip included Attila the charming head waiter, a jolly pianist, and a waitress we soon learnt would happily waltz anyone around the saloon carriage given the slightest encouragement. It runs three routes across Europe, including (new for this year) Istanbul to Prague, which takes in eight countries in 10 days, and a three-night Central European Journey from Budapest to Prague, covering six cities.

At more than 6,000 miles, the Trans-Siberian Railway, which runs from Moscow to Vladivostok and passes through eight time zones, is one of the world’s longest train routes (it is usually claimed to be the longest, but nit-pickers will know that there are a couple of longer ones). What’s exciting is that it’s a proper working line, carrying freight, commuters and real travellers across Russia and, in many cases, on to China or Japan aboard connecting trains from Vladivostok.

If you like the idea of the journey but can’t quite face the gritty realism of it all, consider the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express (goldeneagleluxurytrains.co.uk), Russia’s only fully en-suite private train. Doubling the usual travel time from seven to a more leisurely 15 days, the trip allows time for a night in Moscow at the beginning and one in Vladivostok at the end, plus some interesting guided off-train excursions, such as a private concert in the middle of Siberia.

Stop-offs include Irkutsk (‘Paris of Siberia’), Lake Baikal (the world’s deepest, it holds 20 per cent of the planet’s fresh water) and Ulan Bator (the capital of Mongolia). If your hunger for adventure isn’t sated by the time you reach Vladivostok, you can hop on a ferry and be in South Korea within 36 hours. The really hearty might consider Tran-Siberian train number 4, the weekly Chinese train from Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia that takes seven days and costs from £555 second class, one-way.

The Swiss Glacier Express

It may be one of Europe’s slowest ‘express’ trains, but the Glacier Express (glacierexpress.ch) in Switzerland is one of its most scenic and by far the most civilised, and it costs from about €113 each way, which for Switzerland isn’t bad. Running between two of the country’s best ski resorts, Zermatt at the foot of the Matterhorn and St Moritz in the Engadin, the train covers 180 miles in seven and a half hours – an average of 24mph, ideal for taking those artistic landscape shots through its panoramic windows and skylights.

First launched as a summer service in 1930, it became year-round in 1982. The comfortable modern carriages you travel in today (cosy in winter, air-conditioned in summer) were introduced in 2006. Now there are two trains per day in winter, more in summer, and you can bring your own picnic or be served a complete meal (with wine) on a tablecloth with real crockery at your seat.

I’m also looking forward to the newly relaunched Al-Andalus (trenalandalus.com), a remodelled 1920s train offering a six-day round-trip from Seville taking in the best of Andalusia, including Córdoba, Granada, Cádiz and Jerez. Another gem to be launched this spring is Tito’s Train in Serbia (visit montenegroholidays.com for more information), a day-long journey through scenic mountain forests aboard the 1950s state carriages of Josip Broz Tito, the founder of Yugoslavia, which will travel from Belgrade to Bar in Montenegro. The trip includes breakfast, a three-course lunch (with wine and plum brandy) and a local guide to bring the history of the train and the region to life.

The Americas

The California Zephyr

One of the most scenic train journeys in North America is the California Zephyr (amtrak.com/california-zephyr-train), which follows the pioneers’ trail west from Chicago to San Francisco. At 2,438 miles it follows the canyons of the Colorado river down the western slope of the Rockies, across the deserts of Utah and Nevada and through the snow-capped Sierra Nevada. You can do the trip in two days and two nights, or better still, hop off at any of the 35 stops (Salt Lake City, Reno and Truckee, the leaping-off point for Lake Tahoe, to name three).

For a Canadian ‘take’ on the Rockies, try Rocky Mountaineer (rockymountaineer.com), which runs five rail routes, both east- and westbound, all offering snowy peaks, glacier-fed lakes and dramatic gorges and the chance to spot wildlife such as black bears. Journeys range from three and a half hours to three days. Three go through British Columbia and Alberta to Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper and Calgary, one from Vancouver to Whistler and – new this year – one from Seattle to the Canadian Rockies. Service on the comfortable modern train is excellent, and travel is during daylight hours, so nothing is missed. It has been known for drivers to slow down for some particularly significant wildlife sighting.

A trip to Machu Picchu in Peru is always going to be a treat, but you could up the ante by travelling from Cusco via the dramatic valley of the Urubamba river, on the Orient-Express-run Hiram Bingham (orient-express.com), named after the explorer who discovered the ruins of the Inca citadel in 1911. The elegant train has two dining cars and an observation car, and the trip can be taken either as a day excursion with tea at Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge or with an overnight there. Brunch, live music, gourmet dinner and a guide are included. It will, however, set you back about US$668 for a return, and you may be interested to know that you can do the same journey on the backpacker version, the Expedition train (perurail.com) for US$96 return.

Ecuador’s train system has had a complete overhaul in the past five years, and launching this May is Tren Crucero (contact Journey Latin America for more information), a renovated luxury steam-hauled train that will operate weekly along the spine of the Andes on a track known as ‘the avenue of the volcanoes’, stopping-off at national parks along the way.

In a modern world where traveling between destinations is viewed as a waste of time and resources, it is hard to actually comprehend the beauty of some of the most spectacular rides on the planet. Far less comfortable, yet far more beautiful and interesting, the time spent between two destinations is equally captivating and offers many sights and sounds.

While we are very much in a century where we have ‘no time to stand and stare’, there are still some awesome train rides across the globe where the trip itself turns into a destination. So how about hopping on these 10 grand train journeys?

Glacier Express

glacier-express

Arguably the slowest ‘express’ on the planet, the 180 mile ride on this delightful route takes a good 8 hours. Not that we are complaining about the pace as this offers you loads of time to catch a glimpse of the magical panorama that lies on its path, which links the two mountain resorts of St. Moritz and Zermatt in the Swiss Alps. 291 bridges, 91 tunnels and an altitude of 6,670 feet make this train ride similar to an expedition through fairyland.

glacier-express

glacier-express

Spectacular, stunning and picture perfect, this is a trip that the shutter bugs will really love!

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

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Linking some of the best cities of Europe including London, Venice, Rome, Budapest or Prague, the Orient Express is the most charming way to travel on tracks. With scores of movies, novels and romantic Hollywood scenes captured on this luxurious trip, this is one for those with deep pockets. The three day trip past the beautiful countryside of France, Switzerland and Austria will cost well over 2,000 Euros for the old-age charm of the Orient Express.

Pride of Africa

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The Pride of Africa is a train journey that no nature lover should ever miss if they wish to explore the beauty, majesty and the hidden grandeur of the spectacular Dark Continent at a leisurely pace. Apart from the impeccable comfort it has to offer, the once in a year trip planned on the ‘Pride of Africa’ will take you on a 14-day epic expedition through Cape Town, Dar Es Salaam, Kimberley, Pretoria, the Kruger National Park, Beit Bridge, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Lusaka and through Tanzania to Dar Es Salaam.

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Billed as the most luxurious train in the world, you’d better not lose the opportunity if you’re planning a romantic vacation through the heart of Southern Africa.

Eurostar

eurostar

While not many will really be happy with the fact that you get to spend plenty of time in the Eurostar under the sea, it sure offers a great mix of comfort and class. Apart from getting you to your chosen destination in a pretty short time, it is a much better option compared to choosing the flight between London and Paris. Innovative …

Flam Railway

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Remember the awesome Norwegian Fjords? Well, here is a train ride through the world’s longest fjord Sognefjord, where on a 20 kilometer trip you’ll get to see an amazing descent from an altitude of almost 3,000 feet into the fjords of Flam. The ride looks both enthralling and hair-raising with its narrow passage way and the unforgettable sights.

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A popular tourist attraction in Norway, this is all about exploring unadulterated beauty of nature at a leisurely pace.

Palace on Wheels

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Step on the Palace on Wheels and you will find exactly what you have been promised with the name. The train that starts from Delhi in India and ends up in the royal state of Rajasthan, offers complete luxury on tracks, much like the pampering enjoyed by royal kings in the days long gone. Just to roll back time, a steam engine is used to pull the train initially out of Delhi, adding further to the experience. An elephant welcome in Jaipur, lunch at the Lake Palace in Udaipur, a camel safari near Jaisalmer and an afternoon at the Taj Mahal; the Palace on Wheels is the most comfortable way to explore India.

Eastern & Oriental Express

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Stretching between the ultra-modern Singapore and Bangkok, and traveling through lush green tropical forests, the Eastern and Oriental Express is modern, stylish and comfortable.

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Apart from all the delights it offers in terms of cuisine and hospitality, the train journey presents a perfect window into South-East Asia, its changing topography and the contrast between its urban present and its naturally-endowed past.

Royal Scotsman

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If you are getting on board the Royal Scotsman, then you must have really deep pockets – it’s the most expensive train ride on the planet. Just consider the fact that a 4-day trip on the Royal Scotsman costs more than an entire 19-day first-class trip on the Trans-Siberian, and you will get the idea. The observation car accommodates 36 passengers (yes, only 36 passengers allowed) in comfortable armchairs along with cabins specially designed for dining and other purposes.

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The train pulls over at night when you need to sleep and while the trip offers a great passage through little known waterfalls, mountains and valleys, it is obviously not for everyone.

Trans-Siberian Railway

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There is hardly any doubt that a 6000 mile ride across the vastness of Russia that carries you over a distance of one-third the planet is the grand daddy of them all. The Trans-Siberian train ride is a journey that has already achieved a mythical status for the vastness it encompasses and the magnitude of brilliance that it has in store.

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From Vladivostok across Siberia to Moscow and then to St. Petersburg, the 19-day ride offers more than you could ever find on any other train. Carriages once used by the Politburo are fitted with two bedrooms, a bathroom and a sitting/dining-room, complete with private chef. Carrying you in comfort across seven time zones, this is the ultimate experience on tracks.

It is a unique feeling to carry home when your whole journey becomes your destination as there is never a dull moment on your trip. Instead of waiting for fun and good times to start rolling as you sit in your airline seat, the great train journeys turn every moment into a memory you can cherish for a lifetime.

train rolls across desert at sunset

Photo: ZUMA Press

Train travel is a viable alternative to air travel in regions like Western Europe and in countries like China and Japan, which have focused on building high-speed networks that can compete with other modern modes of transport. The U.S. lags woefully behind in the 21st century rail revolution, much to the chagrin of people hoping for the development of greener modes of transportation. However, many travel enthusiasts see trains as not just a way to get from Point A to Point B, but also an opportunity to take in the view along the way. Besides, the act of train travel, high-speed or not, seems more romantic than getting behind the wheel or stuffing yourself into an economy-class passenger plane seat.Some trains and travel companies take advantage of that sentiment, offering “land cruises” on luxury trains that look like they came from the colonial era. India's Deccan Odyssey, Singapore's Eastern and Oriental Express and trains that follow the route of the famed Orient Express offer a chance to experience classic train travel. Unfortunately, the price tag is steep.But it is possible to build your own epic rail journey. If you want to experience long-haul train travel without dropping five figures on a ticket, here are some of your best options.


Trans-Siberian Express

Speaking of epic rail journeys, the Trans-Siberian Express stands alone. The main line of this route covers nearly 6,000 miles between Moscow and Vladivostok. Like many lengthy rail lines in the world today, the Trains-Siberian route is used primarily by freight trains. But passenger trains use the Moscow-Vladivostok tracks every other day and make a Moscow-Beijing run weekly. The entire trip takes seven days. Fares can be surprisingly cheap, especially for those who find discounts or book in the right place. Most passengers are Russian, though a significant number of tourists also ride. This is not a luxury train, but is reasonably comfortable, with sleeper compartments available.What about sightseeing? A lot of tourists take this trip so that they can cross it off their “to-do-before-I-die” list. Some travelers find the stark beauty of Russia's countryside attractive, and the flat plains and numerous rivers are photo-worthy. The Moscow-Beijing train (which breaks off the main line at the Siberian town of Chita) passes through the Mongolian Plains and the storied Gobi Desert before reaching China's capital city.


Indian Pacific

Australia is home to an impressive rail network that boasts two cross-country lines. The most notable of these is the Indian Pacific, which is named for the two oceans that it connects. The train passes through the fabled Outback as it travels 2,700 miles between Sydney, in the east, and Perth, in the west. Eastern Australia's Blue Mountains, trademark arid flat lands, grasslands and farmlands are all part of the three-day trip.


The Ghan

Another Down Under epic, the Ghan, takes rail riders on a two-day journey between the country's southern and northern coasts: from the southern city of Adelaide to Darwin in the far north. This line passes through the Finders Mountain Range, the stark deserts of central Australia and the tropical lands of the far north. The train is an ideal way to see the sparsely inhabited, unique landscapes of inland Australia. It is cheaper than a sightseeing flight and safer and more comfortable than driving. Unlimited ride and multi-ride passes and discounts make rail travel affordable in Australia.


The Canadian

VIA Rail Canada runs a service that crosses the 2,800 miles between Toronto and Vancouver. Fittingly dubbed The Canadian, this journey takes four nights and three days, passing through the forests of the Great Lakes region, the plains, the Canadian Rockies and British Colombia's Pacific Northwest. Winnipeg, Ottawa and Edmonton are major cities along the route. Special features on this train include dining cars and “sky dome” cars with glass ceilings ideal for sightseeing en route. The Canadian also has special sleep cars. Most of VIA's service focuses on The Corridor, a high-traffic section of tracks from Quebec City, Quebec, to Windsor, Ontario. Sightseers and those who favor trains to cars or planes are the main clientele on Canadian's lengthy rail journey.


Himsagar Express

India still maintains a legendary rail network. Trains are an important part of the infrastructure, but are also a major aspect of the country's image. The Himsagar Express is the longest of the subcontinent’s long-haul rail routes. It runs from the state of Kashmir in northern India all the way to Kanyakumari, a town in Tamil Nadu on the southernmost tip of the country. This three-day journey passes through India's heartland, with a stop in Delhi, a brush with the Bay of Bengal and a pass through the western boomtown of Kochi (Cochin in colonial-era spelling). The line passes through several national parks and a variety of ecosystems. In addition, the journey brings passengers in contact with India's diverse cultures. The train has air-conditioned sleeper cabins, though truly budget-conscious travelers can get by with dirt-cheap basic fares — if they have endurance and don't mind discomfort.


California Zephyr

The California Zephyr's Chicago-San Francisco Bay Area run is the longest offered by U.S. train company Amtrak. The 2,438-mile-long route, from Chicago's Union Station to the Bay Area suburb of Emeryville, is good for land-cruisers seeking a taste of Midwestern and Western America's diverse scenery. After moving through the heart of Middle America, the Zephyr winds through the Mountain West, stopping in Denver, Salt Lake City and Reno before negotiating the Sierra Nevadas, Sacramento and the Bay Area. The California Zephyr runs daily, with the total journey lasting just over two days.


Qinghai-Tibet Railway

China is making headlines with its rapidly expanding high-speed rail network. Despite advances made by the country’s domestic airlines, train travel is still preferred by most people, especially during Lunar New Year, when stations and trains overflow with people returning to their hometowns to celebrate. Though high-speed service is expanding, most of the trains in the Middle Kingdom are still of the slower-moving variety.The Qinghai-Tibet Railway offers one of the more scenic trips in China, which runs between the Southern boomtown of Guangzhou and the Tibetan city of Lhasa. This 2½-day journey passes some of China's most scenic landscapes: lush and mountainous areas of Southern and Central China, the stark but picturesque Tibetan plateau, and the foothills of the Himalaya mountain range. Part of the track is more than 16,000 feet above sea level, the highest section of rail in the world.


Reunification Express

Asia also has a couple of shorter long-haul rail routes worth mentioning. Vietnam's 1,000-plus-mile North-South Railway provides the track for the Reunification Express, which runs between Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south. Since it travels nearly the entire length of the country, it is ideal for sightseeing.


Singapore to Bangkok, do-it-yourself

Regular passenger trains also travel the same route as the popular (and super-expensive) Eastern and Oriental Express, which runs between Singapore and Bangkok. A do-it-yourself journey along the route requires a couple of stops (in the Thai city of Hat Yai and in Kuala Lumpur) but the coastline, mountains, dense jungles and small villages that you pass along the way make this daylong-plus trip worthy of a ranking amongst the world's most scenic rail journeys.The new developments in rail travel mean that trains are not going to disappear anytime soon, but there is magic to be found away from the fast locomotives of the future. Using trains to sightsee can be both romantic and economical. In some cases, like in Australia, Siberia and Malaysia, there is no better way to see the countryside up close.
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