Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in comments
Search in excerpt
Filter by Custom Post Type
Content from
{ "homeurl": "", "resultstype": "vertical", "resultsposition": "hover", "itemscount": 4, "imagewidth": 70, "imageheight": 70, "resultitemheight": "auto", "showauthor": 0, "showdate": 1, "showdescription": 1, "charcount": 3, "noresultstext": "No results!", "didyoumeantext": "Did you mean:", "defaultImage": "", "highlight": 0, "highlightwholewords": 1, "openToBlank": 1, "scrollToResults": 0, "resultareaclickable": 1, "autocomplete": { "enabled": 1, "googleOnly": 1, "lang": "en", "mobile": 1 }, "triggerontype": 1, "triggeronclick": 1, "triggeronreturn": 1, "triggerOnFacetChange": 1, "trigger": { "delay": 300, "autocomplete_delay": 310 }, "overridewpdefault": 0, "override_method": "post", "redirectonclick": 0, "redirectClickTo": "results_page", "redirect_on_enter": 0, "redirectEnterTo": "results_page", "redirect_url": "?s={phrase}", "settingsimagepos": "left", "settingsVisible": 0, "hresulthidedesc": "0", "prescontainerheight": "400px", "pshowsubtitle": "0", "pshowdesc": "1", "closeOnDocClick": 1, "iifNoImage": "description", "iiRows": 2, "iiGutter": 5, "iitemsWidth": 200, "iitemsHeight": 200, "iishowOverlay": 1, "iiblurOverlay": 1, "iihideContent": 1, "loaderLocation": "auto", "analytics": 0, "analyticsString": "", "show_more": { "url": "?s={phrase}", "action": "ajax" }, "mobile": { "trigger_on_type": 1, "trigger_on_click": 1, "hide_keyboard": 0 }, "compact": { "enabled": 1, "width": "300px", "closeOnMagnifier": 1, "closeOnDocument": 0, "position": "fixed", "overlay": 0 }, "animations": { "pc": { "settings": { "anim" : "fadedrop", "dur" : 300 }, "results" : { "anim" : "fadedrop", "dur" : 300 }, "items" : "fadeInDown" }, "mob": { "settings": { "anim" : "fadedrop", "dur" : 300 }, "results" : { "anim" : "fadedrop", "dur" : 300 }, "items" : "voidanim" } }, "autop": { "state": "disabled", "phrase": "", "count": 100 } }
Share This Post Now!

RISMEDIA, May 17, 2010—(MCT)—I’ve crossed the Atlantic on an ocean liner, but missed the era when your choice of line went beyond “Cunard.” I can count the number of long-haul flights I’ve actually enjoyed on one hand – with two fingers to spare.

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. Trains have never been faster, while remnants of the golden age of rail carry from Australia to Canada to Scotland. The United States is more of a mixed experience, where a great railroading legacy bumps into the uneven quality of service and equipment on Amtrak.

Regardless of which continent you’re on, there is nothing more romantic in travel than a long train ride, tucked away in a small private cabin with a pile of books brought along to read but discarded for long periods gazing out the window. At its best, rail travel offers the languor of a cruise with the new-sight-a-minute views of a road trip (without having to keep your eyes on the road).

Here’s my personal list of favorite train trips, including some American classics:

Favorite foreign trips

VIA Rail, Vancouver-Jasper: The trains are nicer, the service is better and you’re more likely to be on time aboard this Canadian train than on its Amtrak counterparts. 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 pine forests, vast lakes and some of the tallest peaks on the continent. You can explore the Rockies or continue on to Edmonton or as far as Toronto without changing trains.

It’s a revelation to realize how preserved the Canadian trains are compared with most U.S. trains – and their rolling stock is up to 20 years older.

The Indian-Pacific, Australia: It’s almost winter in Australia, so the long trip from Sydney to Perth that passes through days of Outback track occurs when the weather is tolerable. Stop in an Outback town such as Broken Hill or Kalgoorlie along the way. This epic 2 {-day Australian rail ride from Sydney on the Pacific Ocean to Perth on the Indian Ocean covers 2,704 miles. It includes a 297-mile section across the Nullarbor Plain that is the world’s longest straight track.

Favorite stops: Broken Hill, Adelaide and Kalgoorlie. Another option: The Ghan, which goes north-south between Darwin and Adelaide. Both the outback areas around Alice Springs and the game parks of northern Australia are better in our summer than theirs.

Eurostar, Paris-London: It’s become passe to take the half-hour hurtle under the English Channel on the way between London and Paris or Brussels. But for those of us who remember when you could only go by air or green-face-inducing ferry across the choppy seas, it remains a marvel. 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 make 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. But, hey, it still gets you to Paris.

Shinkansen, Japan: The Nozomi 500 bullet train is the fastest in Japan, and its gray bullet-nosed front with the jet fighter-like bubble cockpit is unlike any in the world. But you can’t ride it if you are on the JR Rail Pass unless you pay a premium. The slower – and that’s only a relative term – Kodama and Hikari trains make more stops, but still speed you around the country in time that would make any American envious. I’m looking forward to trying the new high-speed line to Honshu in the north.

TGV: The most popular high-speed line for European tourists, the French trains move you around the country in a matter of hours. To have a wonderful lunch at the Belle Epoque Le Train Bleu at Gare de Lyon, then get on a TGV to be in Lyon in less than two hours is a mix of 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. The route from Oslo to Bergen would make any top 10 list in the world, and that’s not all _ passengers can take the wondrous scenic spur line from Myrdal to Flåm, with includes a ferry and a bus trip to reunite with the train farther down the line.

Rovos Rail, South Africa: A fatal accident has cast a shadow over the once exemplary record of this luxury train that operates throughout South Africa and sometimes to the north. The carriages beautifully represent colonial era comforts. It’s a retro counterpoint to the modern Blue Train, considered by many to be the finest scenic train in the world. Rovos excursions in the past include an epic trip to Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border and then on to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

U.S. trips

Sunset Limited: About time I got to the United States! Frankly, the Amtrak service is so disappointing, the schedule so squish and the dependability a seeming afterthought that only the most leisurely traveler can really enjoy what amounts to low-cost land cruises. If you are planning to get between point A and point B, forget it. The Sunset Limited is a favorite in the winter, rolling south through the great deserts, skirting the Mexican border by mere feet at El Paso before rolling past Big Bend National Park and the famous eastern Texas town of Marfa, and over the highest railway bridge in the U.S., which passes over the Pecos River. I went only as far as San Antonio, though it’s possible to go on to New Orleans.

Before storms wiped out the tracks, this was the last transcontinental line, going all the way from Los Angeles to Orlando, 2,764 miles.

Coast Starlight: I have to admit it’s been a few years since I’ve made this run, since my two times before were duds compared with other trips. Amtrak claims this is its high-quality line, but it can’t quite carry off the trick with anyone who has taken a train ride outside the U.S. The scenery, as on most U.S. 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, Ore.

Southwest Chief: The successor to the classic Santa Fe train roughly parallels old Route 66 from Los Angeles to Chicago. Stop off in Flagstaff, Ariz.; Albuquerque, N.M.; or Kansas City, Mo. If I were to make one stop along the way, it would be 24 hours in Winslow, Ariz., where you can stay at La Posada Hotel, a former Harvey House railway hotel.

Pacific Surfliner: Sometimes short and sweet works best, especially when it comes to Amtrak. Officially, this train runs from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, but I stick to the service from Orange County to San Diego. It’s short, usually efficient and drops you off at San Diego’s landmark Spanish-style Santa Fe station, within easy walking distance to hotels, downtown, the USS Midway museum and other attractions. The trolley system across the street makes getting to Qualcomm Stadium or Petco Park a breeze. There are some fun north coast cities along the way in which a traveler could stop for a day or two – Oceanside, Encinitas and Solana Beach _ and there are classic all-American views of great Southern California beaches along the way.

Durango & Silverton: Yes, I know this route carved through the Colorado mountains in 1882 is now just a tourist excursion train. But along with the Skunk Train in the California redwoods and my big long-haul trip on Santa Fe, it’s the experience that shaped my love for trains. The black smoke-belching locomotive looks, sounds and smells like a train out of a Western movie. American Heritage Railways does a nice job. The landscape, following the narrow gauge up into the mountains to the silver mining town at the end of the ampersand, is all the more heart-pounding because of the sheer drop-off of many of the segments.

Train ride wish list

The Blue Train, South Africa: It comes up time and again as the most scenic train ride in the world, a luxurious run between Cape Town and Pretoria. I enjoyed the old-world appeal of Rovos Rail, but would like to take this modern version as well.

The Ghan, Australia: It took decades, but the Australians finally completed the north-south rail line between Adelaide and Darwin. In our summer, it takes visitors through the outback metropolis of Alice Springs, then up to the area around Daintree National Park during the preferable dry season.

The Cassiopeia, Japan: Most of Japan’s trains, including the new northern extension of the Shinkansen bullet train line, are about speed and businesslike efficiency. Not the Cassiopeia. It’s Japan’s most luxurious night train and one that isn’t advertised heavily outside the country. The train has a lounge, restaurant car and large staterooms _ no seats. This is luxe all the way. I only heard about this train when visiting Sapporo for the winter festival a few years ago. It leaves from Ueno Station, near the Imperial Palace, and travels to Sapporo, the metropolis of the northern island of Hokkaido (and Japan’s beer-mecca equivalent to Munich or Milwaukee).

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 _ Malaysia and Thailand have had turmoil in recent years. The train ride might be a respite, but the stops on either end could wipe away the feeling of relaxation.

Lhasa Express, China-Tibet: A controversial train – it is a Chinese government project to open up the country’s links to Tibet, the region it subjugated by force, driving out the Dalai Lama and marginalizing the indigenous Tibetan population. Most of the journey is above 13,000 feet _ and the high point is Tanggula Pass at 16,640 feet, more than 2,000 feet higher than the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental U.S. Like a trip to Burma _ or for that matter, Vietnam, Laos or Cuba _ you’ll need to decide if experiencing a place helps open it up to the outside world or just lines the pockets of dictators. The “new train” from Golmud to Lhasa passes through such high altitudes that passengers can wear oxygen masks if they feel lightheaded.

Shanghai Maglev: Magnetic levitation is the wave of the future for railroads, but the only commercially operational model in the world is the short run between Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport and the city center. The train rides above the rails on powerful magnets, giving it a smooth, fast ride that tops out at 268 miles an hour. It’s a quick ride – the 19 miles are covered in less than eight minutes during peak periods.

Acela: The Boston-New York-Washington route has never fully lived up to its high-speed hype. It can reach 150 mph on short sections of track in New England. But the railbed quality is inconsistent along the route, requiring reduced speeds, and there’s congestion and freight train priority (a problem throughout the Amtrak system) to slow things down.

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 one-of-a-kind experience of visiting the Andean ruins. PeruRail is doing some alterations to the tracks, so part of the journey is by bus until June 30.

Empire Builder, U.S.: I’ve long wanted to take Amtrak’s Empire Builder across the top of the U.S., from Seattle to Chicago, then return on the VIA Rail through Canada. A few hundred miles and an international border separate the two. I’d love to compare the equipment and service on a long haul. The Empire Builder officially takes 46 hours to make the journey.

El Chepe, Mexico: The Chihuahua al Pacifico that takes in Copper Canyon is the premier Mexican train experience, covering 390 miles, crossing 39 bridges and going through 86 tunnels on its journey from the sea to the mountains.

The 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. Now that India is a democracy, the Palace on Wheels is a chance to enjoy the pleasures of the past without the guilt (at least until the credit card payment hits your mailbox).

Rail cruises: I prefer trains that stay on the move, but at some point it would be fun to take one of the luxury “rail cruises” like Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, or the Royal Scotsman. These trains meander about, stopping for cultural and foodie events and sometimes disgorging their passengers for the night to sleep in luxury hotels. A different experience, but if the waiter will bring by a gin martini, dry, straight up, I will endure the hardship.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.