Train travel can be just as romantic, exotic and thrilling today as it was in the halcyon days of the early 20th century. Whether crossing America on a freight train, riding through the Euroasian Steppe on the Trans-Siberian or pottering through Asia’s tea plantations on a toy train, excitement levels are always high. Especially when compared to the alternative: long, back-breaking road journeys.
Whenever appropriate we suggest clients include train travel in their itineraries, either as part of a holiday excursion, or on a more substantial train-themed holiday. Personally I have travelled hundreds of thousands of miles by train across Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australasia. From enjoying the finest dining cars to sleeping on hardened luggage racks I found the sense of adventure and mystery never pales. My longest and slowest open-air train adventure was on the roof of the Khartoum to Wau train in the Sudan; the most luxurious was the Orient Express; and the fastest was on a Tokyo to Koyoto bullet train in Japan.
Forward planning is essential to maximise on relevant time tables, routes through the countryside and advance ticket promotions. One of the best ways to start is by focusing on the countries with the largest rail networks.
Not surprisingly the most populous countries top the list with USA (250,000 kms); China (100,000 kms); Russia (85,500 kms) and India (65,000 kms). The great expanse that is Canada comes fifth with 48,000 kms. Followed by Germany (41,000 kms); Australia (40,000 kms); Argentina (36,000 kms); France (29,000 kms) and Brazil (28,000 kms).
The first ever railway system was built in Britain, whose rail network is 17,700 kms, despite being the 78th largest nation. The London Underground (tube) system is also the world’s oldest and comes in fourth at 402 kms, after Seoul Subway (940 kms), Shanghai (456 kms) and Beijing (456 kms).
Many countries’ geography, as well as population demands, restrict rail travel. For example, northern destinations such as Iceland and Greenland match the Himalayan countries of Nepal and Bhutan for lack of train travel options. Similarly the desert destinations of northern Africa and Arabia, along with remoter island locations in the South Pacific, have very limited networks.
While these photos highlight some of my favourite train journeys over the years, the infectious excitement produced by train travel continues to grow, with a host of new services welcoming travellers and trainos across the world.
So before you take your first journey on London’s soon-to-be-opened Cross Rail, have a think about some of the latest new luxury train trips, including Nomadic Thoughts current ‘Top 3 New Luxury Trains’: