Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Train Travel

Time to slow down, enjoy
August 2018 4467

As cheap flights and high-speed rails take over the world, sleeper trains take a back seat from travel itineraries. However, those of us who have spent nights on a narrow bunk, being gently rocked to sleep, know that the sleeper train experience is unique and special. We are, of course, referring to the most comfortable, private and expensive option on sleeper trains - the one-to-three berth compartment and not the normal seats.


The bullet train has killed off most of Japan’s sleeper services and the only scheduled sleeper trains still running are the Sunrise Seto and Sunrise Izumo, which run between Tokyo and Takamatsu in Shikoku and Izumo in the south west of Honshu. The best thing about these trains is the basic ‘seat’ option, which isn’t a seat at all, but a lie-flat sleeping platform called Nobinobi, which is included with a Japan Rail Pass. Of course, you could just get the bullet train and a limited express during the day that would take less than seven hours, but where’s the romance? Some of Japan’s rail companies are bringing back sleeper trains with a luxury twist: The Seven Stars in Kyushu, the Twilight Express and Shiki-Shima.


Australia has one of the world’s great rail journeys, the Ghan. Beginning in Darwin, this epic four-day, three-night, 2979 km tour takes passengers to some of the most remote yet captivating parts of Australia in style and luxury. Operates until October 24, 2018. This distinctly Australian holiday includes a series of immersive off train excursions. River cruises, cultural experiences and optional camel rides or helicopter flights add another exciting dimension to your journey, giving you a chance to breathe in the beauty you’ve been watching pass by. From the moment you step into your Platinum or Gold Service cabin, you can leave your credit card safely tucked away knowing that all food and beverages are covered by all inclusive fare – from gourmet meals to a social beverage shared in one of the atmospheric lounges.


There are some stunning train journeys across the US, but the size of the place makes it almost inevitable you’ll be travelling overnight. Amtrak offers two types of trains: the double-deck Superliner where you have to share a loo and washing facilities and one-level Viewliner, where all compartments have their own toilet and some their own shower. Travelling between Chicago and Emeryville, through plains and mountains and across the Mississippi, The California Zephyr takes 52 hours, and a cheap Roomette will cost you at least $600, all meals included. You could tack on an overnight from New York to Chicago on the Lake Shore if you wanted to go coast-to-coast; the route follows the Hudson Valley and looks spectacular. It’s not for everyone though, as it’s slow and expensive.


South America’s first luxury sleeper train, the Belmond Andean Explorer, launched in May, 2017. Running along one of the world’s highest rail routes, traversing the Peruvian Andes from Cusco to Lake Titicaca and Arequipa, the new luxury train explores natural wonders and ancient kingdoms on two- and three-day journeys. Guest have the opportunity to explore the vast Colca Canyon, then continue towards the city centre of Arequipa, a Unesco World Heritage site. The reverse itinerary, from Arequipa to Cusco, is also possible. The Picafor Spa Car is ready with a host of services to serve weary travellers.


The Canadian is VIA Rail Canada’s flagship train and runs between Toronto and Vancouver three times a week. The Prestige Class, introduced in 2015, with large bedroom with double bed, full en suite bathroom, plus a host of amenities including flat-screen TV (for videos only), unlimited free drinks, including alcoholic drinks, 24-hour butler service and first choice for meals (included in fare). The schedule from Toronto to Jasper allows three nights on board. All the way to Vancouver is four nights and arrival in Vancouver is scheduled for mid-morning. The schedule was changed in June this year, so best to see the timings before booking. Of course, it is cheaper to fly the plane.


The Maharajas’ Express was custom-built to be the most luxurious train in India - and perhaps the world - offering state-of-the-art facilities and amenities, says The Society of International Rail Travellers. All cabins have large windows, LCD televisions, wi-fi access, individual temperature controls and full en-suite bathrooms. There is one Presidential Suite which comprises a full train car—the largest suite available on any train in the world. The two elegantly decorated dining cars serve a choice of multi-course Indian and continental cuisine. Two lounge cars provide cool drinks and comfortable seating. The train is 22 cars long, taking a maximum of 84 passengers. It is available from $371, per room per night and is subject to 16.6 per cent service charge and taxes.

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