If you’re looking for a way to spice up your travel experience, try traveling by train.  Travelers get tired of the same old motorcoach and plane rides, but rails allow your group the freedom to move about the train, eat in the diner, and interact with other travelers.

Have you considered train travel for your group? A trip by train can be short as two-hours inserted into a day’s program or as long as a seven-day trans-Siberian Express from Moscow to Vladivostok. But whatever rail segment you select, it can make for a truly innovative travel experience that has appeal to many.

Those who may recall the glory days of traveling from Chicago to California on the California Zephyr will find the nostalgia of train travel a strong draw. Rail travel is also a perfect kind of offering for family intergenerational trips—an opportunity for parents or grandparents to share the excitement with a child or grandchild.

In some countries it permits one to travel with the locals. I recall a wonderful experience traveling between Paris and Barcelona, meeting a Catalonian family who generously shared their wine, bread and cheese with me en route. They subsequently became daily companions during my stay in Barcelona and life-long correspondents.

It’s also a wonderful mode of traveling scenic areas like the Canadian Rockies or the Oregon/California coast. It’s appealing as an alternative to motor coach travel, permitting riders the freedom to move about the train, eat in the diner, and meet and chat with other travelers, not being “glued to your seat” as on a motor coach.

Train travel also allows for you to cover long distances in an easy way—in some cases in lieu of air travel. Many Americans, leery of air travel since the 9/11 attacks and dreading the long waits at the airport and the hassle of security clearance, welcome a trip nowadays advertised as “No Air Travel Required.”

Short Stints

Short train trips are available in many parts of the U.S. Green Mountain Railroad in Vermont offers special scenic “Green Mountain Flyer” trips, some featuring special holiday adventures such as the Easter Bunny Express, a Mother’s Day excursion, and a Santa Express. They utilize vintage cars dating back to the 1930s. Fall excursions to see the autumn leaves are also very popular (and sell out early). The Upper Hudson River Railroad offers a two-hour trip through the Adirondacks and along the Hudson River. Check their schedule for special summer events like the train robbery. And in Northern California, tour operator Key Holidays offers short one and two day trips to Yosemite from either San Francisco or Los Angeles, as well as its famous weekend “Fun Train” packages to Reno.

Rail Europe and More

Well-known rail experiences with a reasonable price tag include the breathtaking (and nearly vertical) Glacier Express in the Swiss Alps and the trans-English channel Eurostar through the “Chunnel” between London and Paris (or Brussels).

Both are available through Rail Europe, the convenient U.S. based marketing arm for rail products of most European countries. They also handle the popular Eurail passes. Other short and not astronomical rail trips include the Copper Canyon trip between Chihuahua and Los Mochis, Mexico and the famed Bullet Train (Shinkansen) between Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka with views of Mt.Fuji on a clear day.

AMTRAK and VIA Rail Your New-Best Friends

If planning rail travel in the U.S., you’ll most likely be working with Amtrak (or a tour operator or travel agent that sells Amtrak). While most railroads in the U.S. are privately owned (as opposed to Europe, for example, wherein they are government owned), reservations and ticketing are usually handled by Amtrak. That’s the National Railroad Passenger Corporation. In addition to selling rail tickets and rail passes, they also have cooperative arrangements with tour operators who put together package tours that combine rail travel with hotel stays, sightseeing, meals, and other tour inclusions.

And as Amtrak is to the United States, VIA Rail is to Canada. While its routes span the country, its most popular train is the Canadian between Toronto and Vancouver: Ottawa, Winnipeg, and through the Rockies allowing one to visit Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper. Its great domed cars make for breathtaking scenic viewing and summer tickets are booked far in advance.

Operators like Brewster and others offer a panoply of itinerary possibilities combining rail, motorcoach, and hotel/lodge accommodations along the way.

Something for Everyone

One of the beauties of rail travel is that once you’ve begun to “Think Rail”, you’ll find a wide variety of possibilities. The trick is to find the trip that’s right for your group. You might even think of a combined rail/cruise, giving your participants the option of taking the train to the port instead of using the cruise line’s air connections.

While trips by private motor coach may be the easiest and least expensive way to operate a group trip, they do not always make for the most innovative trip. Those of us who design tours for a living find that the tour experience is usually enhanced by breaking up the modes of travel coach, boat, and rail, even if it does increase the tour cost. Try your hand at it; your travelers will like it.

Hints to Your Rail Passengers

If you decide to include rail travel in trip offerings to your groups, pass along these hints to your travelers:

  • Porterage may be virtually nonexistent in many rail stations, so everyone should bring a suitcase on wheels that they can handle alone;
  • Prices for meals in the diner are in line with meals in a fine restaurant so one should plan the personal en route budget accordingly;
  • There may be plenty of walking through rail stations and to and from trains;

Some rail trips include areas of high altitude (the CopperCanyon, for example, at over 8,000 feet). Tour members with a history of cardiac or respiratory problems or extremely high blood pressure should be advised accordingly.