By Bob Schulman
Whether it's the view of rugged canyons in the Rockies or just the fun of reliving the way people traveled in yesteryear, train rides on railways around the world are becoming more and more popular with vacationing boomers.
Ah, but where to go for the best rides? The answer comes from the Society of American Travel Writers, which polled its 1,150 globe-trotting members to come up with the 10 most memorable train rides.
Here's their picks along with some sample comments from the travel pros:
First-place honors went to The Rocky Mountaineer for its spectacular two-day journeys through the Canadian Rockies from Vancouver to Banff or Jasper. Says freelance travel writer Betsa Marsh: "The Rocky Mountaineer is humbling...both for the monumental landscapes it slices through and the appreciation of the workers who risked – and sometimes gave - their lives to build it." More info: www.rockymountaineer.com.
Runners-up, in descending order, were:
2. The Glacier Express is a Swiss mountain railway famous for its awesome views of Alpine glaciers. The 7.5-hour ride from St. Moritz to Zermatt crosses 291 bridges and burrows through 91 tunnels. More info: www.glacierexpress.ch.
3. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad winds through rugged canyons in the remote wilderness of Colorado's two-million-acre San Juan National Forest. The train is pulled by a coal-fired, steam-powered locomotive on the same narrow-gauge tracks traveled over a century ago by miners, cowboys and settlers of the Old West. More info: www.durangotrain.com.
4. The Bernina Express runs from Chur, Switzerland, to Tirano, Italy, passing from icy glaciers to palm-shaded piazzas in just a few hours. The highest rail crossing of the Alps, the line takes you over 196 bridges and through 55 tunnels. "The Bernina Express takes your breath away before dropping you off in the marvelous little Italian village of Tirano," reports writer Stan Wawer. More info: www.rhb.ch.
5. PeruRail whisks through the Andes from Cusco to Machu Picchu. The train starts off in the foothills, then runs along along the Urubamba River before climbing up to Machu Picchu. You can choose from three types of trains: the mdestly priced Backpacker, the more expensive Vistadome and the luxurious blue and gold Hiram Bingham (named after the explorer who discovered the Inca citadel in 1911). More info: www.perurail.com.
6. Alaska Railroad Corp.'s Coastal Classic Train winds through the wilderness between Anchorage and Seward. Massive glaciers can be seen as the train climbs into the Kenai Mountains and travels to the shores of Resurrection Bay for a convenient connection to Kenai Fjords National Park. More info: www.akrr.com.
7. The Royal Scotsman rolls through the Scottish highlands' sweeping glens, towering peaks and mirror-calm lochs on two- to seven-night trips. Travel writer Steve Winston recalls memories of “Ancient castles. Misty moors. Stark cliffs, covered in black shadows from the clouds. Lochs. Chimneys sticking out of thatched roofs. And Rob Roy and Braveheart waiting beyond every turn." More info: www.royalscotsman.com.
8. The Whistler Mountaineer in Canada is a three-hour ride along the magnificent coast of British Columbia from Vancouver to Whistler. Highlights of the trip include views of cities, old-growth forests, deep valleys, snowcapped peaks and seascapes. More info: www.whistlermountaineer.com.
9. Mexico's El Chepe ventures into the imposing landscapes of the Sierra Tarahumara and into the famed Copper Canyon (four times the size of the Grand Canyon, and deeper). "(The ride) has it all: tall bridges crossing rivers, dozens of tunnels, a winding track that climbs high out of the canyon and, waiting for you at the end, the fascinating indigenous Tarahumara people," says Eric Lindberg, freelance travel writer/photographer. More info: www.chepe.com.mx.
10. The Flam Railway is one of the highlights of FjordTours' "Norway in a Nutshell" tour. On the 12-mile trip from the mountain station of Myrdal down to the fjord at Flam you can enjoy incredible scenery ranging from a panorama of tall mountains to cascading waterfalls. The train moves slowly and stops at the best viewpoints to allow passengers to take picture. More info: www.norwaynutshell.com.
The Society of American Travel Writers is a professional association whose purpose is to promote responsible travel journalism, to provide professional support for its members and to encourage the conservation and preservation of travel resources worldwide. Its members include travel journalists and public relations representatives from the travel industry. More info on the society: www.satw.org.
Photo credits: Rocky Mountaineer, Durango & Silverton Railway, Alaska Railroad Corp. and the Royal Scotsman.
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