While we used to depend on trains for transport and shipments, today they are mainly used for nostalgic journeys. The mountain, sea, lake and forest landscapes that the routes offer make the journey enjoyable and set the scene for a truly exceptional getaway.
So let’s take a look at some of the most dazzling, unique and scenic train routes out there. But before we do that, let’s take a look at the history of trains and these great railways.
The first train was built in the 19th century and grew out of disputes between an engineer named Richard Trevithick and a mine owner. Trevithick built the first steam locomotive known to haul a load a distance at Penydarren, Wales, in 1804. Although he had an earlier locomotive built by the Coalbrookdale Company in 1802, it remains unclear if it ran. Trevithick was unlucky, however, for he was unable to further develop his Pennydarren locomotive and prove that it was superior to the animals, the mode of transport then in use. Therefore, the world’s first train is attributed to another Englishman, George Stephenson. On 27 September 1825 the Stephenson train was the world’s first steam locomotive to carry passengers on a public railway and was used between Darlington and Stockton in Scotland.
In the late 1800s, commuter trains and streetcars were built to transport large numbers of people in and around cities. Railroads were introduced in the United States in 1831, France in 1832, Belgium and Germany in 1835, Russia in 1837, and Spain in 1848. From the 1920s, the importance and market share of trains decreased with the spread of other modes of transport.
In addition to this story, it’s useful to note the following distinction for the train routes, which I’ll list shortly: An express train is a type of passenger train that’s faster than commuter trains because it stops at fewer stations along the route, which is what they usually run direct to major destinations, while local trains stop at most if not all of the stations on their route.
The Orient Express
French, German, Austrian, and Ottoman officials and diplomats all took part in the first voyage of the Orient Express, which ran between Paris and Istanbul between 1883 and 1977. After the start of the Orient Express route, those who came to Istanbul began to stay in various hotels around the city.
From 1895, passengers coming to Istanbul began to stay at the Pera Palace, which was bought by the Vagon-Li Company, which operates the train. During the First World War, which lasted four years between 1914 and 1918, the Orient Express could not operate.
The Orient Express, which resumed services in 1919, became known as the “Simplon-Orient-Express” after the opening of the Simplon Tunnel in 1905, linking Brig in Switzerland and Domodossola in Italy through the Alps. The Great Depression of 1929 led to a shortage of rail passengers.
The Orient Express has been the subject of various novels and films. The famous British crime writer Agatha Christie published her novel Murder on the Orient Express in 1934.
After the Second World War, the Orient Express, which was subject to various restrictions due to the Cold War and gradually lost its importance, made its last journey on May 27, 1977.
The Glacier Express is an express train in the central Swiss Alps that connects the train stations of the two major mountain resorts of Zermatt and St. Moritz via Andermatt. It is considered the slowest express train in the world.
The first Glacier Express was inaugurated on June 30, 1930 in Zermatt, Switzerland. Until 1982, the Glacier Express only ran in summer, since both the Furka Pass and the Oberalp Pass were snowed in in winter.
The express train was in the limelight in 2006 thanks to the documentary “The Alps”, in which some scenes were shot inside the train, and in the same year more panoramic cars were added to the Glacier Express passenger car fleet.
In 2013, the direct connection to Davos was discontinued due to falling passenger numbers and unfavorable economic circumstances. Two additional summer services were introduced in 2018.
Every morning there is a service from Zermatt to Chur and a service from St. Moritz to Brig. These trains then return in the afternoon.
Pride of Africa
Pride of Africa is a luxury train operated by Rovos Rail. Dubbed the “World’s Luxury Train”, the train was established in 1989 and travels through South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania.
Since its inception, Rovos Rail has built an international reputation for providing truly superior travel experiences.
A series of bespoke train journeys ranging from 48 hours to 15 days, Rovos Rail connects some of the continent’s biggest destinations with a variety of non-train excursions.
The Trans-Siberian Railway is a network connecting Moscow with easternmost Russia. With a length of 9,289 kilometers from Moscow to Vladivostok, it is the longest railway line in the world. It also spreads to Mongolia, China and North Korea via connecting lines.
Despite the incredible size of the project, the entire route was completed within eight and a half years.
On October 29, 1905, passenger trains from the Atlantic reached the Pacific Ocean by rail for the first time without being carried by ferries. It opened in 1916 with its current route. During the Soviet period it was converted into a double line and electrified. The electrification of the entire route was completed in 1993.
On the Trans-Siberian tour, it is possible to visit the Siberian plain, the blue of the magnificent Lake Baikal and the Mongolian steppe from Moscow.
Tourist East Express
The Touristic Doğu (Eastern) Express is a Turkish State Railways high-speed train consisting of sleeping and dining cars that runs daily on the 1,365-kilometer Ankara-Kars route.
The bullet train, which began operating on May 29, 2019, makes long stops to allow passengers to explore the surrounding areas in Iliç, Erzincan and Erzurum on the Ankara-Kars route, and completes its trip in 31 hours and 30 minutes. On the Kars-Ankara route, the train stops for passengers to visit Divriği and Bostankaya, and the journey takes 30 hours.
Podi Menike traverses the mountainous region along the main line of the Sri Lanka Railways. It is a passenger train from Colombo Fort to Badulla. The route features bridges, long tunnels, high climbs and climbs.
This journey covers a distance of about 300 kilometers and is considered to be the most beautiful train journey in Sri Lanka, especially the route from Nanuoya to Ella. It takes about 10 hours to complete the trip.
The train offers three classes. The first-class coaches are very luxurious and popular with tourists. The train also includes a buffet car. Between Balana and Kadugannawa, the route hugs sheer cliffs and offers passengers views of Batalegala, or the “Bible” Rock.
The train then continues its ascent through tea country, connecting the market centers in Gampola, Nawalapitiya and Hatton before reaching Nanu-OyaNuwara Eliya, still visited for its temperate climate, classic hotels and British-style gardens.
The Podi Menike continues its ascent to the summit of Pattipola, 1,897 feet above sea level, before descending past Bandarawela to Badulla Terminus. Inland, passengers have views of tea gardens, mountains and valleys, cascading torrents and waterfalls.