While airplanes and cars are the most prominent and dominant mode of transportation today, there was a time when trains reigned supreme. In fact, trains were the driving force behind the economic boom of the western world following James Watt’s invention of the locomotive steam engine in 1769.
The impact of trains was especially more pronounced on the American economy as rail networks provided the means to efficiently connect far flung locations across the empty early American landscape. Rapid expansion of railroads allowed easy delivery of raw materials such as iron, coal and timber to manufacturing centers, which in turn spurred the growth of numerous other industries. It even played a role in the westward expansion of homesteaders. Railways also provided major logistical advantages for the Union states over the Confederates during the civil war.
By the late 19th century, the railroad system across the country had almost 250,000 miles of tracks, constituting more than a third of the world’s entire railway network. Some argue that the establishment of the nationwide grid of transcontinental railroads ushered in the age of big businesses and mega corporations, and played a crucial role in the American economic miracle, which saw a newly-minted nation becoming the wealthiest in the world in just 120 years.
However, as previously alluded to, trains began to lose their appeal by the second half of the 20th century as airliners and automobiles offered more cost effective solutions for cargo and passenger transports. The introduction of the Eisenhower-inspired national interstate highway system in 1956 was effectively the final death knell of the railroad industry – or so we thought.
The advent of new and more efficient locomotion technology has once again turned trains into the most affordable freight delivery option in the country, and the world. While it will never again reach the heyday during the golden age of trains, freight trains today account for up to 40 percent of interstate and intercity freight volume – with coal accounting for 45% of the total.
In addition, trains have also stamped their claim as the most efficient means of transport in large urban centers. Meanwhile, high speed trains are becoming an increasingly popular mode of transport for intercity and interstate travel owing to its long term cost savings and lower environmental impact.
Enterprising entrepreneurs have taken note of this trend, and in recent years, began to create services catered exclusively for the top end of the market. So, if you’re looking for a five star level of comfort for your next business trip or cross country family vacation, check out our list of the top 10 most luxurious trains in the world.
10 The Indian Pacific, Sydney to Perth: Up to $3,890
Country : AustraliaRailway : Great Southern RailLevel : Platinum ServiceDuration : 4 days/ 3 NightsRoute : Sydney-Broken Hill-Adelaide-Cook-Kalgoorlie-PerthDistance : 2,704 milesCost Per Mile : Up to $1.44
The trip, which will take travelers from the eastern edge of the Australian continent to the western one or vice versa, is called the Indian Pacific owing to the fact that the Indian Ocean flanks Perth on the west and the Pacific Ocean flanks Sydney on the east.
The journey begins with a private chauffer service from guests’ homes or hotels to the terminal at either the Sydney Central Station or East Perth Rail Terminal. Upon embarking, you will be ushered into the exclusive Outback Explorer Lounge for pre-train ride refreshments.
To complement the chocolate and mint-enhanced platinum suites, guests can look forward to chef-prepared contemporary Australian dishes in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant onboard. Everyone will also be able to enjoy complimentary beer and wine as they travel across the rugged and picturesque Australian outback.
9 Palace on Wheels, New Delhi Roundtrip: Up to $5,509
Country : IndiaRailway : Palace On Wheels, Inc.Level : DeluxeDuration : 8 Days/ 7 NightsRoute : Delhi-Jaipur- Sawai Madhopur- Chittaurgarh-Udaipur-Jaisalmer-Jodhpur-Bharatpur-AgraDistance : 1,372 milesCost Per Mile : Up to $4.02
The luxurious tour, which currently requires up to eight months advanced booking, will ferry travelers across the heart of northern and central India, and will feature some of the most beautiful temples, historic palaces and monuments, and awe inspiring mountain ranges you will ever see. You will also have plenty of opportunities to interact with the locals during the daily stops, as well as to purchase authentic Indian products and crafts from local shops and markets.
However, while meals (breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner in the two attached restaurant carriages) and an unlimited supply of bottled mineral water are part of the package, you will have to pay for any alcoholic beverages and laundry.
8 The Transylvanian, Budapest to Istanbul: $7,191
Country : Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and TurkeyRailway : Danube Express/Luxury Train ClubLevel : DeluxeDuration : 4 Days/ 3 NightsRoute : Budapest-Lajosmize-Kecskemet-Sighişoara-Braşov-Veliko-Turnovo-Kazanlak-IstanbulDistance : 977 milesCost Per Mile : Up to $7.36
With only eight carriages capable of ferrying up to 42 passengers, this is the shortest train on our list. However, make no mistake, The Transylvanian is a magnificent tour through several ancient centers of power in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Spanning across four countries, the four-day tour offers a close up view of the rich heritage, culture and beautiful landscape of the region. Marvel at the gradual transformation of sceneries from bustling European metropolises to lively Mediterranean cities.
7 Trans-Canada Rail Adventure – Westbound, Toronto to Vancouver: $8,309
Country : CanadaRailway : Rocky Mountaineer/ VIA Rail CanadaLevel : Deluxe GoldleafDuration : 13 Days / 12 NightsRoute : Toronto-Jasper-Lake Louise-Banff-Kamloops-VancouverDistance : 2,720 milesCost Per Mile : Up to $3.05
Despite the two weeks length of the tour, guests will only be spending a cumulative of two days on the Rocky Mountaineer. The remaining time will be spent in hotels (9 nights) and cabins (3 nights). What of the days then, you might wonder?
Well, guests can look forward to gondola rides, helicopter rides, ice explorations, excursions to Niagara Falls and Lake Ontario, and much more. There will also be excursions to downtown Vancouver, as well as to Jasper National Park and Yoho National Park near Banff. The tour, designed to convey the natural pristine beauty of Canada to tourists and locals alike, will end on the 13th day at the ominously-named Hell’s Gate at Fraser Canyon.
6 Pride of Africa, Pretoria to Swakopmund: $8,818
Country : South Africa and NamibiaRailway : Rovos RailLevel : Royal SuitesDuration : 9 Days/ 8 NightsRoute : Pretoria- Kimberley- Windhoek- Sossusvlei-SwakopmundDistance : 2,113 milesCost Per Mile : Up to $4.17
The journey for the Pride of Africa tour is divided into three stages. The first stage involves a cross country run between the South African executive capital, Pretoria, and the Namibian capital, Windhoek. Travelers will be treated to sceneries reminiscent of the American Wild West, along with a view of the imposing Kalahari Desert and the gigantic Fish River Canyon, the second largest in the world behind Arizona’s Grand Canyon.
The second stage involves a flight from Windhoek to the red plains of Sossusvle. After an overnight rest at the Etosha National Park, travelers will then embark on the final leg of the journey across the Namib Desert to the beautiful coastal town of Swakopmund.
5 The Eastern and Oriental Express, Singapore to Bangkok: $11,025
Country : Singapore, Malaysia and ThailandRailway : Eastern & Oriental ExpressLevel : State CabinDuration : 12 Days/ 11 NightsRoute : Woodlands-Johor Bahru-Kuala Lumpur-Georgetown-Hua Hin-River Kwai-BangkokDistance : 1,262 milesCost Per Mile : Up to $8.74
In reality, passengers will probably spend more time at the Singaporean Immigration & Checkpoints Authority than travelling through the tiny nation state. Instead, the bulk of the journey will be spent speeding through the scenic Malaysian and Thai cities, coasts and countryside. However, prior to departure, travelers will spend the first two days of the Eastern and Oriental Express in the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, where they will be treated to the country’s unique blend of Chinese, British colonial and modern-day Western culture, cuisine and lifestyle.
Some of the most memorable stops along the way include Georgetown and River Kwai. Georgetown, the capital of the northeastern Malaysian state of Penang and a Unesco World Heritage Site, once served as the administrative center of the British East India Company during its heyday in the 19th century. River Kwai (or Khwae Yai River in Thai), meanwhile, became part of Hollywood lore after the success of the 1957 motion picture, The Bridge on the River Kwai.
4 Royal Scotsman, Edinburgh Roundtrip: $ 14,020
Country : ScotlandRailway : FirstScotRailLevel : State CabinsDuration : 8 Days/ 7 NightsRoute : Edinburgh-Dundee- Keith-Boat of Garten-Plockton-Spean Bridge-Bridge of Orchy-Wemyss Bay-EdingburghDistance : 720 milesCost Per Mile : Up to $19.47
Travelers will be greeted by a chorus of bagpipes as they board the ultra-luxurious coaches of the Royal Scotsman at the Edinburgh’s Waverley Station. Inside, they will be greeted by five star accommodation, service and cuisine, roundly acknowledged as the ritziest and poshest in the world.
With a free flow of champagne and three dozen varieties of whiskeys, travelers will journey through the breathtakingly beautiful rolling countryside of Scotland. To maximize the passengers’ viewing pleasure, the train will only travel during daylight hours.
3 Rovos Rail, Cape Town to Dar es Salaam: $18,900
Country : South Africa and TanzaniaRailway : Rovos RailLevel : RoyalDuration : 17 Days/ 16 NightsRoute : Cape Town-Kimberley- Pretoria- Botswana- Zimbabwe- Victoria Falls-Mlimba- Dar es SalaamDistance : 3,790 milesCost Per Mile : Up to $4.99
The 13-coach train will remind many of Agatha Christie’s novels and the Victorian era. But a quick peek out of the window will immediately bring them back to the present as their senses are pleasantly assaulted by the sights, sounds and smells of the African continent.
This spectacular trip will meet all of your dreams about Africa: the people, the wildlife, the safaris, the cities, the mountains and much more, as you travel across great plains, cities, woodlands – and this is before we factor in the numerous exciting excursions!
2 Heritage of India Journey, Mumbai to Delhi: $23,700
Country : IndiaRailway : Maharajas’ ExpressLevel : Presidential SuiteDuration : 7 Days/ 8 NightsRoute : Mumbai - Ajanta - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Bikaner - Jaipur - Ranthambore - Agra - DelhiDistance : 2,041 milesCost Per Mile : Up to $11.61
With gold plated cutleries and gourmet Indian cuisines, an indoor boutique, lavishly designed suites, fully stocked bar, and butler service, among others, one would be hard pressed to leave the opulent confines of the carriages of the Maharajas Express.
However, this is before we take into consideration the attractions awaiting outside, such as the magnificent Taj Mahal, the majestic tigers of the Ranthambore National Park or the mesmerizing City of Lakes.
1 Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, Moscow to Vladivostok: $33,751
Country : Russia and MongoliaRailway : Trans-Siberian ExpressLevel : Imperial Suite CabinDuration : 15 Days/ 14 NightsRoute : Moscow-Kazan-Ekaterinburg-Novosibirsk-Irkutsk-Lake Baikal-Ulaan Batar-Ulan Uday-VladivostokDistance : 6,500 milesCost Per Mile : Up to $5.19
Without doubt, the singularly greatest railway journey today. Passengers will stand in awe watching the mighty eastbound train traversing the breadth of Russia across eight time zones and a harsh and despondent landscape and climate. Seated comfortably inside your luxurious suite, you will nevertheless feel a sense of triumph exploring this untamed land. For the suitably desensitized, there are of course numerous other attractions, no least in the Russian capital of Moscow or at the disembarkation point, the more raucous Vladivostok.