Traveling by Train for the Scenery, Freedom and Nostalgia

Expert Advice, Rail Travel

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 are leery of air travel and dreading the long waits at the airport and the hassle of security clearance, welcome a trip nowadays advertised as “No Air Travel Required.”

Related: Scenic Rail Guide – Leisure Group Travel

rail travel


Short Stint Train Trips

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.

Rail Travel Offers 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 offering something for everyone in 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 For 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 Copper Canyon, 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.

Overall, rail travel can provide a comfortable, sustainable, and enjoyable way to travel, with the added benefit of being a cost-effective, convenient and eco-friendly alternative to other forms of transportation.

Rail travel offers a number of benefits over other forms of transportation.

  1. Comfort and Convenience: Rail travel is generally considered to be more comfortable than other forms of transportation, with larger seats, more legroom, and often more amenities such as Wi-Fi, electrical outlets, and food and beverage service.
  2. Sustainability: Rail travel is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of transportation, with lower emissions than cars and airplanes. It is powered by electricity, and does not have to use fossil fuels.
  3. Scenery: Rail travel allows passengers to enjoy the scenery and landscapes of the journey, which can be a major attraction especially in scenic routes.
  4. Reduced Stress: Rail travel allows travelers to sit back, relax, and avoid the stress and hassle of driving or flying. This is particularly useful for long-distance trips, as it allows travelers to arrive at their destination feeling refreshed and well-rested.
  5. Cost-effective: In some cases, rail travel can be more cost-effective than flying, particularly for short-distance trips or for groups of people traveling together.
  6. Reliability: Trains tend to have a good track record when it comes to punctuality and sticking to schedule.
  7. Accessibility: Train stations are typically more conveniently located in city centers and other destinations, so you can easily get to and from your destination without a long commute.

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