Inspired by a combination of Calm sleep stories and a similar post by Charlotte (@girlsonrails98) on twitter, I’ve decided to do a post covering my bucket list of railway journeys, ranging from West Country sleepers to one of the most remote railways in the world. I’ve divided these up into four sections covering Great Britain, Europe, the USA and the Rest of the World but they are definitely not definitive lists, as I’m sure there are some amazing journeys I’ve missed.
- Night Riviera – Paddington to Penzance – Leaving London just before midnight, the Night Riviera makes its way west, via Reading, Taunton, and Exeter before trailing its way through the West Country. In the summer months, dawn breaks just as the train leaves Newton Abbot, meaning the coast of the southwest can be observed in the early morning light.
- The Longest Train – Aberdeen to Penzance – At a whopping 722 miles and taking nearly 13 and a half hours, Crosscountry’s 1V60 leaves Scotland’s Granite City at 8.20 in the morning, calling at 41 intermediate stations on its way to Penzance where it arrives just before 9.45 in the evening. Due to Covid-19 service cuts, this is currently cut short, running Aberdeen to Plymouth, so hopefully it’ll be back in full when things get back to normal.
- The Settle & Carlisle Line – Leeds/Settle to Carlisle – With services starting at the northern hub of Leeds, the Settle and Carlisle line branches away from the Leeds to Morcombe line just after Long Preston. With 10 stations, beautiful scenery and the stunning Ribblehead Viaduct, there is even a rover ticket for the line, allowing you to jump out throughout the day and explore the line.
- The Gerald – Cardiff to Holyhead – Possibly one of the best named trains in the country, The Gerald is another service that isn’t running due to Covid. Operating one return service a day, The Gerald leaves Holyhead at 0534 running via Chester, Wrexham and Shrewsbury arriving into Cardiff around 4 and a half hours later with first-class passengers being provided with a full breakfast. The return service departs Cardiff heading north at 1716, with a three-course meal being provided to first class customers on the way back to Holyhead.
- The Heart of Wales Line – Swansea to Shrewsbury – Another Welsh service, the Heart of Wales line runs between Llanelli and Craven Arms with services starting and finishing at Swansea and Shrewsbury. Weaving its way through some of the most remote and beautiful parts of Wales, the line was under threat from the Beeching Cuts but was thankfully saved. Due to repair works following the Llangennech rail crash in August 2020, the southern end of the line is not currently operational, but hopefully will be when we’re able to travel again.
- The Nordland Railway – Trondheim to Bodo, Norway – The longest line in Norway, this 453-mile line was only fully completed in 1962. Two daily return services operate across the full length of the line, one day time and one sleeper. This is one of the train journeys on the calm app and its definitely inspired me to make it across to northern Norway at some time in the future.
- Intercity Notte – Milan to Palermo, Italy – Intercity Notte is the brand of Trenitalia that runs long-distance sleeper services across Italy, with Milan to Palermo being one of the longest. As well as seeing the wide-ranging Italian countryside from the comfort of the train, this is one of the few services in Europe that still uses a train ferry, connecting the Italian mainland with Sicily.
- Glacier Express – Zermatt to St. Moritz, Switzerland – Originally only able to run in the summer months due to snow blocking the route in the winter, 1982 marked the start of year-round operations with the opening of the Furka Base Tunnel. The narrow-gauge line traverses 181 miles in just under 8 hours, with an onboard restaurant being a key part of the Glacier Express experience.
- Orient Express – London to Venice – Allowing passengers to reminisce about the glory days of rail travel, the ‘Venice Simplon-Orient-Express’ is actually two trains, with passengers travelling on the British Pullman from London to Kent, then crossing the channel by coach, before joining the Orient Express from Calais to Venice. From around £2,650 per person, the journey isn’t cheap, but it’s definitely a bucket list item.
- Trans-Siberian Railway – Moscow to Vladivostok, Russia – At a whopping 5,772 miles long, the Trans-Siberian railway is the longest in the world and crosses eight time zones on its way from the Russian capital to Vladivostok. Taking eight days to complete, only two services take longer, and both of those also use the Trans-Siberian for most of their routes (Moscow-Pyongyang & Kyiv-Vladivostok).
United States of America
- Empire Builder – Chicago to Seattle – Taking almost two full days to cross seven northern states, the Empire Builder connects ‘the windy city’ of Chicago with the west coast cities of Seattle and Portland. Passing through the Glacier National Park and scenery ranging from prairie to forest, the Empire Builder is a great way to see the northern USA.
- Coast Starlight – Seattle to Los Angeles – Traversing almost the entirety of the west coast of the USA, The Coast Starlight has been continuously operated since Amtrak’s creation in 1971. Previously notorious for poor on-time performance (just 2% in in 2005, with delays of 5-11 hours common), the Starlight has vastly improved and now provides a great connection along the west coast.
- Sunset Limited – Los Angeles to New Orleans – Passing through all four states that border Mexico, the Sunset Limited is the oldest named train in the USA and at times has operated as far as Orlando and Miami. The eastbound service is poorly timed leaving LA in the late evening and arriving in New Orleans in the middle of the night two days later. Thankfully the westbound service is much better timed, leaving New Orleans just after the morning rush and arriving into LA just before breakfast.
- Crescent – New Orleans to New York – The Crescent passes through 12 states and the District of Columbia, more than any other Amtrak service, allowing passengers to see a great range of the country from the bustling north-eastern corridor to the more remote parts of the south-eastern states. The Crescent is also mentioned in R.E.M’s song ‘Driver 8’.
- Cardinal – New York to Chicago – The most southern of the routes connecting the north-east to Chicago, the Cardinal heads through the north-east corridor before crossing West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana before entering Illinois and Chicago. The full journey takes around 28 hours and is advertised by Amtrak as one of its most scenic routes.
Rest of the World
- The Blue Train – Pretoria to Cape Town, South Africa – Another of the world’s most luxury trains, The Blue Trains has operated as a luxury train over a 1,000-mile route connecting two of South Africa’s capitals almost continuously since 1946. The service is promoted as a “magnificent moving five-star hotel” and has been travelled on by Kings and Presidents.
- The Trans-Mongolia Railway – Ulan-Ude, Russia to Jining, China – Connecting the Trans-Siberian Railway to the Jingbao Railway, the Trans-Mongolian railway, crosses Mongolian roughly north-south and passes through the Gobi Desert. Due to a change in railway gauge (from Russian to Standard) at the Mongolia/China border, the crossing can take a few hours when combined with customs and border control. Mongolia and its capital Ulaanbaatar have always been on my bucket list and crossing a country by rail is always a yes from me.
- The Reunification Express – Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – Covering 1,072 miles on Vietnam’s North-South Railway, The Reunification Express is a term frequently used for any train travelling this route. Express services can take as little as 29.5 hours to travel along the coast of Vietnam, whilst local services can take almost 41 hours to travel between the two cities.
- Indian Pacific – Sydney to Perth, Australian – One of the world’s truly trans-continental railway journeys, the Indian Pacific takes around three days to travel between the state capitals of New South Wales and Western Australia. Travelling more than 2,700 miles, the journey includes stops allowing for excursions from the train at Broken Hill, Adelaide, Cook and Rawlinna.
- Northern Explorer – Auckland to Wellington, New Zealand – One of the shorter journeys on this list, the Northern Explorer takes around 10.5-11 hours to travel the length of New Zealand’s north island. New Zealand is renound for its stunning scenery, and this journey is marketed on that by ‘The Great Journey’s of New Zealand’ division of KiwiRail. The train operates three times a week in each direction, covering a distance of 423 miles.
Hopefully this list has given you some inspiration for a rail journey whenever it is safe to travel wherever you are in the world. There are so many more journeys that I’m sure are just as amazing that I haven’t listed, and travelling the world by rail is definitely something I’d do if I won the lottery.