I can count the number of long-haul flights I’ve actually enjoyed on one hand. But around the world, it is still possible to step into a grand railway station, board a train and experience the best the world has to offer on steel wheels. There is nothing more romantic than a long train ride, tucked away in a cabin with books brought along to read but discarded to gaze out the window. Here’s my list of favorite train trips:
VIA Rail, Canada: the route from Vancouver to Jasper in the Canadian Rockies is called “the ski train” in winter. Come summer, the 1950s dome car features views of mountain peaks, pine forests and vast lakes.
Indian-Pacific, Australia: this epic 2-day rail ride from Sydney on the Pacific Ocean to Perth on the Indian Ocean covers over 4,350 kilometers. It includes a 478km section across the Nullarbor Plain that is the world’s longest straight track. Favorite stops: Broken Hill, Adelaide and Kalgoorlie.
Eurostar, Paris-London: the recent upgrade of tracks in Britain has shortened the trip by 20 minutes, and the switch from modern Waterloo Station to the gloriously restored red- brick Victorian St Pancras Station makes entering London one of the great rail experiences in the world. Wish I could say the same about the scruffy, distant Gare du Nord in Paris.
Shinkansen, Japan: the Nozomi 500 bullet train is the fastest in Japan. Its bullet-nosed front with a jet fighter-like cockpit is unlike any in the world.
TGV: the French trains move you arou
nd the country in a matter of hours. To have lunch at Le Train Bleu at Gare de Lyon in Paris, then get on a TGV to be in Lyon in less than two hours is the best of old and new train worlds.
Bergensbanen: the Norwegian train from Oslo to Bergen is the highest main line rail route between two cities in Europe. Passengers can take the wondrous scenic spur line from Myrdal to Flam, which includes a ferry and a bus trip to reunite with the train.
Rovos Rail, South Africa: this luxury train operates throughout South Africa and sometimes to the north. The carriages represent colonial-era comforts. Rovos excursions in the past included a trip to Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border and then on to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
Sunset Limited, United States: a favorite in the winter, it rolls from New Orleans to Los Angeles through the great deserts, skirting the Mexican border before rolling past Big Bend National Park.
Southwest Chief, United States: the successor to the classic Santa Fe train roughly parallels old Route 66 from Los Angeles to Chicago.
Durango & Silverton, United States: the black smoke-belching locomotive looks, sounds and smells like a train out of a Western movie. The landscape, up into the mountains to the silver mining town, is all the more heart-pounding because of the sheer drop-off of many of the segments.
Coast Starlight: the scenery, as on most US lines, is the awesome attraction, with the long run from Los Angeles to Seattle going from city to sea to mountains. Break up the trip with overnight stops in Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Mount Shasta or Portland, Oregon.
Eastern Orient Express, Southeast Asia: a plush roll up the Malay Peninsula from Singapore to Bangkok. My only caveat is to check out the political situation along the route – southern Thailand has had turmoil in recent years.
Lhasa Express, China-Tibet: most of the journey is above 3,962 meters – and the high point is Tanggula Pass at 5,072m. The “new train” from Golmud to Lhasa passes through such high altitudes that passengers can wear oxygen masks if they feel light-headed.
Shanghai Maglev: magnetic levitation is the wave of the future for railroads, but the only commercial model is the run between Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport and the city center. The train rides above the rails on magnets, giving it a fast ride that tops out at 431 kilometers per hour.
Cuzco to Machu Picchu, Peru: critics contend the new train has made it too easy to get to the famed mountaintop lost city, but fans love the addition of a rail adventure to go with the experience of visiting the Andean ruins.
El Chepe, Mexico: the Chihuahua al Pacifico that takes in Copper Canyon is the premier Mexican train experience, covering 628km, crossing 39 bridges and going through 86 tunnels from the sea to the mountains.
Palace on Wheels: the great “Raj” train experience of India is an intentional throwback to the colonial era, when the British overlords traveled in luxury amid the nation’s poverty.
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER (MCT)