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5 of the best railway journeys in the world


In an extract from his new book ‘Only Planet’, eco-warrior, Ed Gillespie explains why he opted to travel the globe without boarding a single flight.

And here is a selection of some of his favourite railway journeys from his globetrotting adventure, which saw him cover more than 40,000 miles and pass through 31 countries.


Semmeringbahn through the Austrian alps

The world’s first true mountain railway the Semmeringbahn winds through the Austrian Alps is a feat of harmonious engineering with the beauty of it’s bridges, tunnels and viaducts matching the magnificent mountain scenery it traverses. Impressive castles and country houses are visible from the train as it crosses sixteen viaducts, fourteen tunnels and more than a hundred carved stone bridges.


Circum-Baikal railway – around Lake Baikal in Siberia

Formerly the ‘Jewel in the Tsar’s Belt Buckle’ the Circum-Baikal railway used to surround Lake Baikal one of the world’s oldest, deepest lakes. Now just a remnant of this railway wonder remains from Slyudlyanka to Port Baikal on the lake’s northern shore. But you can still get a sense of wonder from chugging along it’s innumerable bridges and tunnels gazing out over the vast white ice sheet of the lake in winter or its shimmering blue waters in summer.


The Trans-Mongolian

We are all familiar with the Trans-Siberian but most people are unaware the line also splits in Irkutsk Siberia into three railways. The Trans-Siberian proper continues onto Vladivostock, the Trans-Manchurian runs through northern China to Beijing and the Trans-Mongolian also ultimately ends up in the Chinese capital via Ulaan Baatar. The Trans-Mongolian traverses the wild, windswept wastelands of the Gobi plateau, a truly awesome and inspiring place to roll through.


Trans-Alpine across New Zealand’s south island from Christchurch to Greymouth

This line bisects New Zealand’s South Island from the Canterbury plains on the east coast to the coal mines of Greymouth on the west. In doing so it climbs up and through the snow-capped alpine mountain range that runs down the spine of the island, taking passengers on a journey that usually takes in sunshine and snow, blue skies and blizzards, green fields and grey rocks. At Arthur’s Pass in the high alps the line runs through the Otira tunnel a five mile long feat of engineering that at the time of its construction in 1923 was the longest in the entire British Empire.


The Copper Canyon railway in Mexico

Originally conceived to connect land-locked Kansas City with the Pacific Ocean the Copper Canyon railway runs through the extensive system of valleys and crevasses that is almost four times bigger than its rather more famously grand northern neighbour. It climbs up narrow dead-end valleys, spirals up inside mountains and takes you from steamy Los Mochis to emerge amongst the cool pines of Creel and then onto Chihuahua. They don’t build them like they used to.

Only Planet: a Flight-free Adventure Around the World, is published by and is available in all good bookshops. Ed is also chairman of specialist European rail travel agency, which aims to make booking a train as simple as booking a flight.

Images courtesy of Ed Gillespie

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June 28, 2014 | Travel | View comments

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