Rail travel is one of the best (and most eco-friendly) ways to get around the world...
Pretty much any large city in the world is serviced by at least one railway line, along with countless local and commuter services.
Many of today's trains still have historic names such as the Trans-Siberian Express or Sunset Limited, Blue Train or Orient Express and follow the same routes as their original namesakes.
Advantages of Train Travel
Trains allow you to travel in safety and comfort, and their old-wordly charm sets them apart from more mundane means of transport. They pollute less, rarely suffer from weather delays and won't give you jet lag. You can talk to your companions, read a book, or have a snooze. If the scenery palls you might go for a stroll, have a meal in the dining car, make friends in the bar or watch a movie...
Even better from the backpackers' point of view, trains are very cost-effective compared to other modes of transport, especially if you use an unlimited ticket, such as Interail (Europe) or North America rail passes.
It may also be a novelty, especially for families with children, who are usually fascinated by trains. It's often easier to care for small children on a train than on a plane or car trip.
Some people go by train solely for the amazing views en route or relish the extra time it takes, giving them an interval alone on either side of a holiday or business trip.
Travel at Night
Traveling overnight is also a good way to save money on hostel or hotel accomodation. The reclining seats found in most modern standard carriages make it easy to sleep in comfort - something that is almost impossible on a crowded airplane or bus.
It's a good idea to take a blanket or light sleeping bag, though, in case the air-conditioning becomes too much, and try to choose a seat away from the doors for more comfort. Alternatively, there are sleeping compartments, ranging from singles up to family size. These aren't cheap, and usually need to be booked in advance, but you do get extra privacy and facilities (sometimes including a free meal) for around the same price as a bed in a hostel, depending on the line. Bed linen and blankets are provided here, and usually a complimentary tea or coffee in the morning.
Disadvantages of going by Train
Trains aren't the fastest way to travel (except on the 150 mph Eurostar or Shinkansen Bullet Trains) and timekeeping can't always be relied on, since many long distance and tourist trains operate on lines also used by other services and don't always have first priority.
You also usually need to buy your tickets in advance to get a good deal, especially in expensive areas like Western Europe. Conversely, in smaller countries, trains might only run once every few days and may not stop directly where you want to go.
Recommended Special Journeys
Trains frequently go through spectacular scenery that is not easily or safely accessible by any other mean! Here are a few of our favorites:
The Trans-Siberian Railway
Possibly the most famous rail journey in the world, it links Moscow with Beijing, crossing the vast wooded wilderness of Siberia and the sands of the Gobi desert.
The Northern Line from Morden to Edgware
Cross London in style on its most the famous underground line, built back at the turn of the 20th century.
This is the highest rail crossing of the Alps, helping to make it one of Europe's outstanding train journeys. Where else can you travel from glaciers to palm trees in two hours?
Often voted one of the world's greatest rail journeys, it takes two days and nights to travel between Chicago and San Francisco, following America's earliest transcontinental rail route across farmland, prairie, deserts, rivers and the Rocky Mountains.
The Cairo to Aswan Express
Back to basics, but nonetheless a great experience taking in the whole length of Egypt from the Mediteranian coast to Lake Nasser and the Sudanese border.
More comfortable than the bus, more fun than flying and more relaxing than a car trip, trains keep you in touch with the landscape and the civilized pace is ideal for sightseeing. Planes may be quicker for distances over 1,000 miles but involve lengthy security checks as well as tedious journeys to and from congested airports!