Take the (Night) Train

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Just finished reading Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and am planning an upcoming European trip, so trains – particularly those that rumble along at night – are currently much on my mind.

Yesterday’s New York Times featured a piece on how environmental concerns about flying are reviving interest in night trains, Once Threatened, Europe’s Night Trains Rebound:

“Public opinion is changing compared to a few years ago, when night trains were considered old-fashioned and nostalgic, something from the past,” [Nicolas Forien, a member of both Back on Track and the French group Oui au Train de Nuit (“Yes to the Night Train”)] said. “Now it’s considered a serious alternative to flying which should be redeveloped.”

“The most important thing for me these days is the climate discussion, because they are really climate-friendly alternatives to middle-distance flying,” Bernhard Knierim, an activist with Back on Track, said of trains. For Mr. Knierim, the optimal distance for overnight rail travel is “anything up to 1,000 kilometers,” or about 620 miles.

Trains vs. Planes: the Advantages

The advantages of taking the train – especially for many European and Asian services that I’ve had first-hand experience with –  extend well beyond the environmental. For many years,  I’ve opted for trains over flights, whenever possible.

Less Security Theater. For starters, when it comes to travel, airports are ground zero for security theater. This is still not the case for most train travel. While it’s often necessary  to step through a metal detector or get wanded in order to enter a station or board a train, rail passengers aren’t subject to the delays and indignities inflicted on air travellers.

Convenience, Time, Expense. The speed, convenience, reliability and amenities offered on Japanese trains, such as the Shinkansen service, are well-known. If I lived or spent more time in Japan, I doubt whether I’d ever take a domestic flight ever again.

But Japan’s not just the only place that offers attractive high-speed service. My most recent high-speed train trip was in January, when I took Morocco’s newly-launched high speed service from Tangier to Casablanca. Fast, reliable, pleasant – and not costly.

And benefits aren’t limited to high-speed trains alone; even ordinary train services offer many advantages compared to flying. Unlike airports, central train stations are usually located in city centers. That means once your train arrives, you’re likely much closer to where you want to be than if a ‘plane had dumped you at an airport somewhere on the outskirts. The total time in transit, city center to city center, is less than the more differential between air time and train time suggests.

European train tickets cost more than budget carrier airfares. But adding the cost of getting to and from out-of-town airports increases the total travel cost.

In Asia, the price difference is not as great and certain train tickets even cost less than cut price airfares. And for budget travellers, night trains – e.g., Bangok to Kuala Lumpur to Singapore; or Vietnam’s Reunification Express, which goes from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi (and can be broken into legs); or India’s express services – Rajdhani, Duronto, Shatabdi – between Kolkata and Delhi, or Delhi and Mumbai – allow those of us lucky enough to be able to sleep on trains to shave a night’s hotel costs off the budget for every night train taken.

Pack What You Can Carry: Never Lose Control over Baggage, No Excess Charges

I travel with a laptop, camera equipment (digital SLR, and two telephoto lenses), and my birding binoculars. Carrying these necessary but costly, fragile items that cannot be checked means my carry-on often exceeds the maximum of 7 or 8 kilos of allowed hand baggage. About half the time, despite being a a couple of kilos over the limit on the carry-on, I’m waved through. But the rest of the time, the great negotiation commences over what should be checked. I’m polite and have always been allowed to bring these items on board with me – albeit rarely but sometimes after being required to take things out of my carry on and sling them around my neck to be cleared to proceed to the gate.  The whole unpleasant exercise is completely avoided when one jumps onto a train.

There’s a second baggage risk with air travel. As I was reminded two years ago when flying to Vietnam via Hong Kong, airlines do still lose luggage. Even though my baggage was properly barcoded, it took nearly two weeks – and multiple calls – before one bag finally caught up with me (see The Crapification of Air Travel, And Don’t Expect AMEX to Help, Either).When it did arrive, the bag was trashed and I had to throw it away. The contents were intact – including several precious notebooks. So I celebrated our reunion.

By contrast, when one boards a train, the bags travel nearby. Now, sometimes heavy suitcases must be stowed away from one’s seat but still elsewhere in the same carriage. Often, it’s possible to secure the bags to the luggage holder so that no one can walk off with another’s luggage. Locks are sometimes not available, in which case,  one must remain aware of what’s going on with one’s luggage.  But it’s never necessary to surrender luggage entirely  to the tender mercies of airport baggage handlers and the conveyor delivery systems that have damaged so many of my bags – wheels or handles ripped off, cases cracked , sides torn away.

Another further advantage of train travel is one can more or less bring aboard what one can carry, without paying excess baggage fees. My textile travels often find me collecting and porting textile samples, and the weight of these quickly adds up. Taking the train means I don’t get socked with exorbitant excess baggage charges.

Brief Encounters

I’m not going to go all Tom Friedman on you here. Far be it for me to suggest that my occasional brief encounters on trains yield the same deep knowledge and insights as have his conversations with taxi drivers.

But with that weak disclaimer, I’ll still say: during the many hours I’ve spent travelling on trains, I’ve enjoyed many interesting conversations. Now, the clientele on high speed trains often includes many business travellers, who are often insulated in their personal travel bubbles. But on the slower services, the balance tends be toward people travelling for leisure or personal reasons, rather than business. And they often can spare some time for conversation.

The Bottom Line

For those with summer travel plans, consider taking the (night) train.

Alas, I realize most of NC’s US readers don’t have many good train options for domestic travel.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way – there was a time when US train travel was something to sing about.

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  1. Wukchumni

    Guess i’ve been on perhaps a few dozen overnight trains, none in the USA though, and no sleepjourns lately.

    Repetitive sounds can drive me crazy at times, but the clickety-clack clickety-clack of a choo-choo was always a welcomed noise while cutting some z’s…

    Al Stewart sings of the night train…


  2. Mark Alexander

    Even though your article is mostly about fast trains, it reminds me of the Flanders & Swann song, The Slow Train. It’s a lovely bit of nostalgia that’s over 50 years old now, so I guess that makes it nostalgia squared.

  3. Phillip Allen

    Back in March I attended a start up food co-op conference in Milwaukee. To attend the same conference in 2018, also in Milwaukee, I flew from Bradley in CT. It was my first time flying in a very long time, and it was a misery.

    This year I went by train. I could have traveled faster had I flown, and somewhat cheaper. I’m retired, my time is my own to spend as I please, and I had no need for speed. This is an informationally dense and intense meeting. Having that long block of time pretty much isolated from the demands of routine to study and strategize the agenda, for background reading, to simply think about things, was truly valuable. Equally so the time on the return trip for digesting the flood of information and ideas I and my colleague came away with from the 2.5 day experience. On top of that added value, travel by train spared me the misery of airports and the questionable pleasures of flight. I hope to never have to fly again.

  4. Off The Street

    Night train travel was common in the USA decades ago including runs south from large cities like Chicago as in the movie Some Like It Hot. There was romance and nostalgia aplenty.

    Jerri-Lynn, have you had occasion to take the high altitude train to Tibet as part of your travels?

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      No, I have not. Never been to Tibet, but have been to many adjacent areas.

    2. skk

      There’s always the song “City of New Orleans” by Arlo Guthrie to get a chilling nostalgia kick of our pasts and perhaps what US trains were like. Separately, despite how roads and road travel has developed, I still always fit in one overnight train trip when I visit India, and navigating the complex advance booking system for higher class sleeper reservations.

        1. JE

          I took the City of New Orleans night train down to Cairo, IL from Chicago with my bike for a Mississippi river bike camping trip 15 (!!!) years ago. I grew up listening to Steve Goodman (he is missed) and was really excited to be on the storied train as my first night train. The experience crossing rural Illinois was interesting. The train cars were largely empty, with the vast majority of passengers being Mennonite or similar “tech-averse” families dressed in their traditional garb. The train was slow, the price reasonable, the atmosphere priceless.

          I’ve since often looked into using trains in the Midwest to travel and the lack of infrastructure and competition with the oil trains out of the Bakken makes it very difficult to make the case. Traveling to Denver from Minneapolis requires a backtrack to Chicago, 2 days and more money than a flight by a significant margin. No thanks. Direct lines to Glacier Nat’l Park are available but family has been sidetracked (the literal definition) by oil trains often when taking that route to Bismarck, ND and these can turn an 8 hour ride into a 36 hour ride very quickly. The oil trains have right of way over passenger. Again, no thanks.

          If we’re going to have rail alternatives to air travel in the US, we’ve got a lot of work to do.

  5. Cal2

    We rode trains all over Germany, France and Spain this summer. Buying tickets ahead of time is awkward. We used a websites called Loco2. They have magnificent maps of European trains systems and you can buy tickets for every country. It was flawless and we could print our tickets at home in the U.S. There may be other sites.

    French trains like the TGV, double-decker, are impressively fast, but are filthy, bathrooms that don’t work, people sprawled in the aisles, neighborhoods around train stations look like the Maghreb.

    The best trains are in Spain. The country massively over borrowed from Swedish bankers who then got the E.C. to pay back their private loans and (try to) force austerity on Spaniards. The advantage to you is massive overbuilding of rail infrastructure, new stations, newly electrified passenger dedicated four track lines, high speed equipment on clean single level trains. The meals are airline style, but way better.

    Everything is better in Spain compared to France IOHO. You get more for your dollar, without the French arrogance, cigarette smoke everywhere and street crime. Art lover? The Prado is as good as the Louvre, is nowhere as crowded and there’s no mandatory exit through the luxury shopping center, as in Paris.

  6. PlutoniumKun

    For anyone interested in train trips, the Seat 61 website is a fantastic resource. But from following it for years it is clear that there has been a sad loss not just in night trains, but in other services such as car carriers (drive-on services) and particularly in linking ferry services (very important for those of us living on islands). I think for a combination of security and commercial reasons there has been a serious decline in ferry links across the Mediterranean and along the Pacific Rim.

    My one experience of overnight European trains was a section of the old Orient Express from Vienna to Belgrade – I even brought Graham Greenes mystery ‘Stamboul Express’ (set on the train) to read. It was lovely and atmospheric, but as it was in 2002 and the Balkan countries hadn’t finalised their agreements with the EU yet, I was woken several times overnight by checks on each border, and it went over a lot of borders. It was still a worthwhile experience. I tried to replicate it in the US a few years ago, I wanted to get a connecting flight in NY from Arizona by train, but it proved far too expensive and difficult. Long distance train journeys are far more viable in Europe and getting better as high speed rail lines are extending further, even to the very south of Spain now.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Seat 61 is indeed fantastic. I’ve used it before and the information provided has always been up-to-date and accurate.

    2. Peter

      Travelling to Germany on a yearly basis, I of course travel within Germany by train, it is the most convenient (even if the DB has some problems) and cheapest way beside bus travel.
      It is cheaper to by on the net (or prebook at the railway station) if you are under no time constraints when at certain times during the day the rate can be 50% less than the regular rate.

      It is also possible to purchase inter euro tickets (at the DB website for instance) that permit a certain amount of trips per week or month a for visitors right across EU or EU affiliated countries. I am planning a trip for next year from Portugal (Lisboa) right to Sweden using one of those tickets for my wife and myself.

    3. Off The Street

      Seat 61 is a wonderful resource and encourages vicarious traveling, reverie and day-dreaming while planning future trips :)

    4. Jeremy Grimm

      Thanks for the link to Seat 61! I hate air travel and had worked with the Amtrak site before. I have trouble traveling by train in the US after so many pleasant experiences in Europe and the Orient. The US rail system pales in comparison. I wish I could buy the equivalent of the Eurail Pass I used to travel around Europe through the Summer of 1970. As US citizen I probably wouldn’t be able to get one if we had them but it would be nice to know they existed. The rail passes we do have available don’t quite compare.

    1. Peter

      Always was am still am a railway fan. Too bad the Trans Canada trip was always unaffordable…

      1. Krystyn Walentka

        I took ViaRail from Vancouver to Toronto and it was awesome but paid a premium over Amtrak. Old school trains, very back in time feeling.

    2. Jan

      In the not too distant past, there used to be a weekly night train (cars, bicycles and ordinary passengers) between the netherlands and italy.
      Took that a few times from den bosch to bozen/bolzano. Couchettes for 4 and than early breakfast in bozen. Austrian and Swiss railways are restarting night trains between various parts of germany and Austria and Switzerland.

  7. Eclair

    I have always loved to travel by train … even Amtrak, which, in its long distance version is not so much train travel as endurance contest.

    In the 90’s my spouse, our son and I went from Beijing to Xi’an by overnight train, in the ‘hard sleeper,’ a car composed of a long corridor along one side, with little open cells along the other, sporting six bunks, facing each other in a tier of three. We were sort of segregated with other foreigners, three Japanese students.

    But we got the full experience: get into your jammies upon boarding (you would have picked up food from the trackside vendors (I remember a roast chicken, stuffed into a greasy paper bag) and brought along a sack of cup of noodles), fill your two quart-sized thermos bottles, provided in each compartment, at the hot water urn at the end of each car, so you could drink endless cups of tea (you bring your own loose tea leaves.) Bathroom facilities were primitive …. but actually smelled better than some Amtrak bathrooms, as one’s waste dropped directly onto the tracks, eliminating the possibility of plumbing backups. The only danger was from the splinters in the ancient wooden toilet seat. But I wasn’t complaining since this was a step up from a squat toilet. You just reclined in your bunk, since there was not enough head-room to sit up, and watched the landscape rolling by, through the rather dingy lace curtains on the window. The train was powered by one of the last steam engines; my spouse, the engineer and train enthusiast, was enchanted.

    In 2015 I went with kids and grandkids on a Europe-by-train adventure. From Stockholm to Copenhagen; by ferry-train to Berlin, then to Prague and down to Vienna. Most overnight trains had been discontinued (oops!), but we got tickets on the overnight from Vienna to Venice, via Salzburg. Again, six bunks in two tiers of three, but in a closed compartment, and the bunks didn’t come down until we were ready to retire. The five of us arranged ourselves, with some difficulty, onto the bunks, with teeny pillows and thin blankets. We had ordered coffee and breakfast from the car attendant before we turned in for the night.

    We left one of the bottom bunks empty and the next morning, fast asleep, chained to her steamer-trunk-sized rollie, was a tiny Chinese student who had boarded at Salzburg, terrified that she was defenseless in a room with five large and noisy Europeans. The sight of my daughter and granddaughter made her feel safer, and soon we were all laughing as we tried to drink coffee and eat a tough breakfast roll, while lying down.

    Arriving in Venice on a warm, moist summer morning at sunrise was a marvelous experience.

    1. Anders K

      Thank you for sharing your trip memory; made me both want to on a train adventure of my own and to read more!

  8. Krystyn Walentka

    I have over 20,000 miles logged in coach on Amtrak. I never fly.

    I agree with all you have expressed, best of all is the increased human interaction. I have met so many interesting people on my trips, from rich to poor.

    An added bonus for me over flying us that while taking the train I am usually in a state of homelessness, so a three day/two night ride from Chicago to Seattle also includes two nights I do not have to pay for lodging. And the scenery between ND and WA is wonderful. Business class on the Coast Starlight is my favorite.

    But I will say that Amtrak has declined badly over the last five years so much so I tend not to travel as much.

    1. Aron Blue

      I’m an avid Amtrak traveler myself – I like to use the Rail Pass for my solo music tours – true that quality has declined – also I notice that trains east of the Mississippi tend to be nicer experiences – the Crescent from NYC to New Orleans is a favorite ?

  9. dearieme

    Decades ago I caught the “sleeper” from London to Inverness. We woke to a lovely morning in Strathspey and an excellent breakfast. I did a day’s consulting and flew south at the end of it. Fond memory.

    1. Clive

      Travelling down to the county of Cornwall on the “Night Rivera” is also a wonderful way to see this relatively inaccessible part of the world.

      I’m amazed at the monstrous summer tailbacks which build up on the A303 which is about a mile from my house, formed of people heading down to the “West Country”, mostly from off of the M25. Given a choice as to whether to spend a day sitting in a car vs. a trip on the “sleeper” which has you start your break having relaxed and slept on the way down, I know which I’d do.

    2. dearieme

      Another one I’ve enjoyed is Adelaide-Melbourne.

      Sur Le Continong it was all so long ago that the details are lost.

  10. tim

    In Sweden due to fly shaming.

    The amount of flights have gone down about 4.5% and the use of night trains between Malmø and Stokholm has doubled, good way to cut down on our CO2 Consumption

  11. Pinhead

    There are very few night trains still running in Europe. The high speed trains have replaced them.

  12. Edward

    “Less Security Theater”

    Can more be said here? My impression is that normal legal protections are suspended at airports somehow. Airports seem to be like Guantanamo.

    With trains you don’t run the risk of having a connecting flight in a country such as Canada or the U.S., where you can be arrested, as happened with the Huawei official.

  13. Janie

    We vacationed extensively (for Americans) in Europe in the 80s and 90s, including a two month and a three month trip after retirement. We followed the advice of Rick Steves, a travel author and long-time presence on PBS. He strongly recommends night trains as a time and money saver, using Eurorrail passes.

    I’ve also used Japanese and Chinese trains.

    Great experiences for which I am very grateful.

  14. Janie

    We vacationed extensively (for Americans) in Europe in the 80s and 90s, including a two month and a three month trip after retirement. We followed the advice of Rick Steves, a travel author and long-time presence on PBS. He strongly recommends night trains as a time and money saver, using Eurorrail passes.

    I’ve also used Japanese and Chinese trains.

    Great experiences for which I am very grateful. Too bad such trips are not available in the greatest country ever.

  15. ObjectiveFunction

    And Indian train journeys could of course furnish material for an entire blog on their own! There is of course the well known story of the Delhi train that went 150 miles in the wrong direction before anyone noticed! (the countryside of northern India looking very much the same)

    My own favourite story is the whistlestop tour my family found ourselves attached to on a stopping train in Rajathan. Our sole neighbour in first class was a politician (pudgy little bloke, about 5 shades darker in RL than his campaign posters). He made no conversation with us, but the train staff treated him with great deference. And at each stop he was greeted at the platform by a crowd of a hundred or so, all men who looked more or less like clones of himself (without the Rolex), loudly chanting over and over:

    “taTAtataTA! IndaBUTT IndaBUTT!

    That was it for about 10 minutes, no speech, just a wave and then back on the train. Repeat at the next stop, most of the way to Ranthambore.

    To this day, I can only assume that was the name of his political party. The platform must make interesting reading: whatever keeps birth rates down. Not judging…

  16. JCC

    I am also a big fan of trains. Although I have little experience with trains outside the US, I traveled often here, on the Phoebe Snow back in the late 1950’s to cross-country trips on AMTRAK over the last 30 years.

    On my last trip, from L.A. to Rochester, NY, I met a couple from Ireland that told me they travel often to the US and once they arrive in the country they never fly, but use trains for their primary travel. Surprisingly they told me they preferred AMTRAK over Euro trains when traveling great distances. They said that border crossings and switching trains was a hassle there that they didn’t have to deal with here.

    I have met many on these trips, from California to New Orleans, Chicago, New York, and Fort Lauderdale that have told me they rarely, or never, fly.

    I have found the staff to be always pleasant, hard working, and they have lots of interesting stories when you take the time to get to know them during the trip. Most are experienced, long-term, employees that know how to do their jobs well.

    It’s unfortunate that AMTRAK has closed so many routes here in the States. Although more expensive (if you don’t keep an eye out for often offered discounts), and considering the almost non-existent Security Theater, it is a far more civilized (and fuel-efficient) way to travel.

  17. Savita

    Check out http://www.seat61.com
    A travel blog by an obsessive train rider. Extremely precise, detailed information abou train travel in a ton of countries. Turns out its cheaper to take a train across continents in some cases, than an equivalent airfare. An non-commerical site, nonetheless its so good it gets mentioned in Lonely Planet guidebooks

  18. The Rev Kev

    Riding a long distance train was always a pleasure and I have done so in South Africa and Europe. You can get up and walk around, meet lots of people who are either locals or fellow travelers and it was always enjoyable to just watch the different landscapes. I always thought taking a train from New York to, say, San Francisco or Los Angeles would be interesting just to see the different landscapes pass by from State to State. And now for some more train music-


  19. SJW

    I’m a permanent resident of Japan living in Hamamatsu City. I’ve used the Japanese train/subway system since 1980 and have found it far superior to those in most other countries including the EU. The French trains were in my view barbaric as are their airports. The Shinkansen dates back to the 1960s Japanese Olympics and has a record of no customer loss since then despite the fact that it must pass constantly through tunnels and bridges due to the fact that about 80 percent of Japan is mountainous. The courteosity, safety and precsion of the Japanese transportation system is in my international experience quite unique. As a now retired university professor I’ve gained my experience from attending conferences and giving papers in the US, Canada, Israel and the EU.

    1. Oh

      They’re always on time, trains are so clean and the courtesy of the staff is outstanding. However prices are higher nowadays.

  20. super extra

    Due to a lengthy confluence of factors I won’t get into here, I ended up on an impromptu Montreal -> Toronto -> Vancouver -> Portland OR train odyssey last month. It took about five and a half days to cross (most of) North America east to west. Canada’s rail system (Via Rail) is showing its age, but it’s still worlds better than Amtrak (Via Rail has an actual dining car with actual vegan options on the Toronto->Vancouver leg, and the Quebec trains had decent breakfast service included in a business ticket cost). There are definitely drawbacks on a train journey as long as I was on, but for smaller routes (Montreal->Quebec City, Seattle->Vancouver) it makes so, so much more sense and is so much more civilized. I would enthusiastically restrict my travel to train-distances only, if North America’s neglected rail infra and service were updated.

  21. barefoot charley

    Now I remember the midnight train (half-price) from Paris to London, back when the Chunnel was just a longstanding Napoleonic plot. All the coolest half-pricers were aboard if not alert, then herding and lying all over the ferry, then rocked drowsy again for arrival in London in the morning. A rite of passage indeed.

    I’m glad our Amtrak still exists (I assume that night train doesn’t) but the degradation of service these past 20 years just in the dining car is sad. One day we’ll take it again, I’m sure–with yummy snacks and no expectations.

  22. David

    A lot of the relative superiority of train travel is to do with ease of access. The tendency in the last couple of generations has been to build larger and larger airports further and further from the city. In some cases (Narita is the worst I can think of) you know you are probably still a good three hours away from your hotel when you get off the plane. I have fond memories of flying into Tempelhof long ago, where you were through immigration, onto a bus and in the centre of Berlin in twenty minutes. Likewise I traveled to western Europe a lot from London City, in the air an hour after leaving the office. And the days of arriving at checkin half an hour before a short haul flight have long gone. Thus the comparative advantage of trains.
    But there’s a downside also. The new high-speed networks were largely built to compete with airlines, and so to service the higher end of the market. With online reservation, checkin and reserved seating they increasingly resemble aircraft, and you can no longer just turn up and get a seat. In turn, traditional lines have often been starved of investment, and even closed down. In France for example it’s much harder to travel by train outside the main cities than it used to be. This, with the consequent need to travel everywhere by car, was one of the reasons for the original Gilets jaunes protests.

    1. Joe Well

      What you just said absolutely applies to the Acela corridor in the US. Acela and local service: it’s heaven and, not quite hell, but pretty far from heaven.

  23. Joe Well

    I wish I had the link at hand, but I’ve seen figures that the US uses rail for a much higher % of freight than Europe, which has a much bigger impact on reducing carbon emissions. Compared with Europe, the US was freeing up rail lines for a far more economically efficient and environmentally beneficial use than thinly packed passenger cars: shipping containers. You can always take the bus or coach for intercity travel in the US or anywhere. It’s not like the only choice is air, train or automobile. In fact, in Latin America, passenger rail was completely eliminated decades ago and luxury coach service is at a very high standard, certainly better than Greyhound or Amtrak.

    So you should be recommending, “take the overnight bus (or coach).”

    Of course, if our society had its act together, we could just build more rails to accommodate more freight and more passengers, but this is the West, not Asia, and petty local grievances and major corporate greed will derail (pun intended) any major additions to our infrastructure. So we had better make the best use of our existing infrastructure, and that means taking out passenger cars and putting in shipping containers.

    Where the US can and should be investing in rail is in urban transportation systems, i.e., metros. Boston has had two derailments in just the past week and the situation is dire all over the US. We can’t even maintain the urban transit systems we have and some middle class people want to put political pressure to add commuter rail lines and even intercity passenger systems. SMH.

  24. lordkoos

    “Thinly packed passenger cars” would not be a thing if rail travel was better promoted and more efficient.

    I have ridden trains across the US, Canada, Thailand, Malaysia and China, and hope to do more. I’ve been sold on train travel ever since I was 10, when my parents took our family from eastern WA to Detroit via the Milwaukee Hiawatha in the late 1950s. Night Train? https://youtu.be/iAeh40tamYc

  25. SJW

    I completely agree with David about the Narita Tokyo International Airport. It takes hours for me to get there from Hamamatsu: first the Shinkansen to Shinayama and then the 20-minute transfer to the Narita Express that delivers me to the airport in a pretty fast, violent, computer-controlled line. I hate the airport, but my Japanese family and I have a home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, so I have to take that route at least once a year. Japan has overnight JR trains with sleeping compartments that are still quite popular for those who want to visit specific sites in Japan.

  26. Joe Well

    Sitting waiting at Red line platform in Boston right now. Reduced service because of yesterday’s derailment which damaged signal equipment.

    I do not want to hear about new intercity train service. I want the trains I take now to work.

  27. mpalomar

    Traveled by train and river boats in Egypt and Sudan in the very early 70s. Both modes of travel were running technology the Brits had left behind from colonial days; shabby and threadbare by the time I passed through but the first class (and only) dining car had old linen and silverware with empire logo and the waiters were dressed in a kind of livery.

    I travelled third class for thousands of miles on overnight trains and paddle wheel steamers from Cairo to Khartoum and then further south to Juba.

    On the trains through the desert the best sleeping berth was open air up on the roof with the younger men, the trains travelled slowly enough for it to be reasonably safe or so it seemed.

    Awoke one night and the train was traveling faster and everyone had decamped for inside the overcrowded cars, my sleeping bag (deserts cold at night) caught the wind and nearly flipped me off.

    As the train snaked through the Sahara I felt I was riding on a giant sandworm on Dune which I happened to be reading at the time. A somewhat miraculous trip as the Sudanese had just called a timeout in their decades of civil war between North and South and outside travellers were scarce.

  28. Alex

    Very true, I’ve always enjoyed night-trains taking me anywhere within 300-500 miles from Moscow even when I had to travel in 6-bunk door-less carriages.
    Longer than that it becomes less convenient but as a one-time experience I recommend it to everyone. If you go to Sochi for example you can count on crayfish near Voronezh, salted fish when you get closer to Rostov and much much more.

  29. Savita

    Pleased to see everyone was well familiar with seat61 blog – learning only after I raced to post my comment. The night train from Melbourne to Darwin via Adelaide and Alice Springs is still in effect, it’s a wonderful journey. The route is officially Adelaide to Darwin, straight up through the red centre, but one can commence in Melbourne. It has a lot of history, that track, that route. Rev Kev? (you’ve usually got something interesting to say courtesy of that encyclopedia of yours you carry around everywhere)

  30. BrianM

    There is brand new rolling stock on the Edinburgh/ Glasgow to London sleeper. The old stock was somewhat past its best (I used to joke that calling it the “sleeper” breached the Trade Descriptions Act.) So I contemplated using it again a couple of months ago. Except the cost was more than a night in a hotel in London plus the travel ticket. So nice idea, but a bit of a fail really.

  31. Greg

    I do like trains, but it is very hard to make them work anywhere but wellington and starting to be a little bit of auckland in NZ these days. The long haul lines are all completely buggered still from the asset stripping in the yay-privatisation 90’s. And the rolling stock.

    The result is that long haul train journeys take about half again as long as cars (using wellington to auckland as an example I’m familiar with) and cost about three times as much as a flight.

    So I guess, some work required before it’s as simple as a marketing campaign to encourage people to consider them as an alternative.

    1. Wukchumni

      We took a train from Auckland to Wellington in 2004 and it seemed to take forever, not that the scenery wasn’t captivating along the way.

  32. Roxan

    I took an overnight train from Denver to Seattle back in 1983. I didn’t pay for a sleeper which was very expensive, but soon wished I had. As soon as we split off for Seattle–other half of train went to California, I think–a very nasty conductor got on. He had the idea that no one should sleep in their seats because we hadn’t paid extra to sleep–and made regular rounds, slamming a club of some sort against the metal rails. I was so sleepy I was never sure what he was hitting, but it was a very loud clanging sound, and he would snarl at us too. Later, I wondered if he had originally been a prison guard.

    I can’t help but compare that with the marvelous 40 hour rail trip I took in 1984 from Bombay to Goa on a narrow-gauge steam engine. We were able to sleep on our seats which turned into rather basic beds, with 4 to a compartment. No door, so not exactly a ‘room.’ We didn’t want first class as we wished to experience India! And we did. We had lots of company, played chess, traded snacks and just had a wonderful time. Everyone was jolly, even occasionally breaking into song. I felt as though I had entered a Kipling novel, chugging slowly through jungle and tiny villages. It was the highlight of our trip! Sadly, I think the steam trains are now gone.

  33. upstater

    Russia has some wonderful overnight trains. The Red Arrow between Moscow and St. Petersburg is an excellent train. Regional services are OK, but not at the same level.

    South Africa still has good tourist and Primers Class overnight trains a couple days a week between Johannesburg and other major cities.

    Both countries have a lot of budget airlines that have caused reduced train service.

  34. CBBB

    Unfortunately the problem is that the train IS an expensive way to travel in Europe compared to the alternatives. The trains in France can be very affordable if you book ahead, but the DB in Germany is pricey unless you get lucky with sales. Much, much cheaper to drive with a car unfortunately.
    I am doing a trip in Spain in a few months and had wanted to take the train around but the prices are absurd. I can rent a car for 2 weeks and drive for less then what two train tickets will cost me to hit the same locations. With gas it ends up being roughly the same/slightly more expensive with the car but we will have flexibility.
    Ditto trying to take the train when traveling long distances in Europe – budget airlines are many factors cheaper than a train ticket from say Germany to Spain.

    I am pro-train and really, and have tread the Seat64 blog, I would love to do more train trips in Europe but the astronomical prices in many routes make it tough to justify. I think this is terrible for the environment, more should be done to make train trips cheaper, it seems like this may be tied up with the whole austerity mentality which dominates European economic thinking. Trains might need public investment to make them more affordable and that isn’t at all the conversation going on in Europe.

  35. Jeremy Grimm

    Watch “The Manchurian Candidate” (original version) or “North-by-Northwest” and compare today’s train travel in the US to what it once was. Look at the buildings for the Los Angeles Central Station, or Penn Station in New York City … or Newark, New Jersey Penn Station or the Central Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and it’s hard to believe these buildings could ever have been built … here … for our trains.

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