There are more than 700,000 miles of railways in the world. One way or another, I’ve covered quite a few of those while researching a series of train books that have taken me to North Korea, Peru, China, the US, India, Australia, Europe and the UK. One of the joys of train travel is the ability to see corners of the globe those who soar above will never do. You get a better picture of a country: tiny villages, remote forests, mountains, coasts, cityscapes, glens, lakelands, plains, deserts and seas.
1. The Great American Railroad
Amtrak runs a series of great rides across the US, although most people do not associate America with trains as there are so many planes and highways. There are so many brilliant rides: Lake Shore Limited from New York to Chicago (departing from Penn Station and running for some distance along the mighty River Hudson); Chicago to Seattle on the Empire Builder across the wilds of the northern plains; and the California Zephyr between Chicago and San Francisco, taking two nights and three days and crossing the Rockies, to name just a few.
2. Australia’s Ghan
Journeys on The Ghan cut Australia in two, covering 1,851 miles from Adelaide in South Australia to Darwin in the far north, via Alice Springs – where most passengers disembark to see Uluru. To go the entire distance across the hot red desert of Australia takes 54 hours with a four-hour stop-off at Alice Springs. The Ghan has as many as 38 stainless-steel carriages and looks a bit like a long shiny snake.
3. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Trains are a very big deal in India. More than 1.3 million people are employed by Indian Railways, which transports 20 million passengers daily. There are 68,000 miles of lines (more than twice the circumference of the globe), 14,500 daily services and more than 7,000 stations. Some of the rides are breathtaking, including journeys around the ‘Golden Triangle’ from Delhi to Agra (for the Taj Mahal), Ranthambore and Jaipur.
4. Rocky Mountain Outlook
The journey between Banff in Alberta and Vancouver in British Columbia is one of the greatest, passing through the Rocky Mountains with snowy peaks above and many a river and lake. You travel through some of the most remote territory along the line that linked the east and west in 1885. The journey takes two days with an overnight stop in Kamloops.
5. Trans-Siberian Railway
Travel to the other side of the planet on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Start in Moscow and go on to Vladivostok in the far east of Russia or via Mongolia to China, or to China across its border with Russia, finishing in Beijing. The distance from Moscow to Vladivostok is 5,772 miles, while the journey to Beijing – avoiding Mongolia – is 6,319 miles. Take a break in Kazan, Irkutsk or Ulan Ude.
6. Glacier Express
This legendary service between Zermatt and St Moritz takes eight hours and covers alpine scenery, with stops at Andermatt and Chur. It is not a fast train; the average speed is 24 miles per hour and the term ‘express’ is used because the train does not call at every station. It runs on narrow-gauge tracks, covering 181 miles and travelling through 91 tunnels and across 291 bridges.