My favourite trains (so far)

I rarely remember my dreams. I have to wake up in the middle of them to remember what they were about, and quite often I’m so tired that by the time I can get my mental faculties together to try and remember the dream, I already forgot what it was. Which is probably good, since most of the dreams I remember make very little sense.

This morning’s dream was an exception. I was talking with someone I know (admittedly, can’t remember who it was) about trains. (Believe it or not, this is not an unknown conversation.) They asked me what my favourite train trips were, and I had said something like “whoa, that’s a tough one, let me think”. Then I started rhyming them off.

Oddly enough, that was about when I woke up … and I kept rhyming. So I figured, heck, that just sounds like a blog post!

Now these are in rough order of enjoyability and preference (if I had the opportunity to ride again). Though I should state that I would probably ride any of these again in a heartbeat, anyway. Some of these no longer run, however, so their appearance here is strictly archival.

  1. VIA Rail Canadian Vancouver – Halifax (VIA Rail charter, not currently possible under regular scheduling)

This will likely forever remain my favourite. I had the chance at a unique contract with the CBC, which ended up running coast-to-coast across Canada on a VIA Rail train made entirely of the 1940s Pullman stainless steel cars. There is just no better way to see Canada.

  1. Trans-Siberian Railway Moscow – Irkutsk (Rossiyskie Zheleznye Dorogi)

It’s hard to imagine that you can spend 5 days on a constantly-moving train running across a single country, and see almost nothing but vast openness and endless tracts of birch trees. There’s something magic, mystical, even mysterious about the journey.

  1. Trans-Mongolian Railway Ulaan Baatar – Bejing (Mongolyn tömör zam, China Railways)

The trip from Russia to Ulaan Baatar is okay. But the trip from Ulaan Bataar to Bejing is something else. First, the intense desolation of the Gobi Desert. Next, a rail gauge change in Inner Mongolia, followed by an overnight trip into the heart of China, passing through the Great Wall itself as you descend via switchback before finally arriving in Beijing. It’s a helluva trip.

  1. Shanghai MagLev (Shanghai MagLev Transportation Development Corp.)

Pure. Blinding. Speed. This train doesn’t go far — from the Pudong area near central Shanghai out to Pudong International Airport, the trip is a mere 30 km. But it travels the distance in just over seven minutes at speeds of up to 431 km/h.

  1. The Cariboo Prospector (BC Rail, discontinued)

Before BC Rail was bought by CN, they ran a passenger service between Prince George and Vancouver. It was an all-day trip, leaving early in the morning, and arriving well after dinner. But there was never a more fantastic trip through the Fraser Canyon, with more spectacular views of places you can’t get to by car. The service, sadly, no longer runs on BC Rail. A similar trip is available through the Rocky Mountaineer.

  1. The Bras D’or Halifax – Sydney – Halifax (VIA Rail, discontinued)

VIA Rail ran a slightly odd service (meant to promote tourism, but allowed for no stopover time) between Halifax, Nova Scotia and Sydney, Cape Breton. The trip ran along the shores of Bras D’or Lake, and in the fall ranks as one of the most beautiful trips I’ve seen. (The fact that I also got to ride in the cab just made it that much better.) Sadly, due to line maintenance issues, VIA Rail no longer runs this service.

  1. Nozomi Shinkansen Tokaido Line, Tokyo – Osaka (JR West)

The famous Bullet Train. This is the longest line, running from capital Tokyo to Osaka. The Nozomi-class trains have the fewest stops, hence run the fastest along the line, too. Riding a Shinkansen is an experience, not just from the scenery, but from watching the sheer efficiency and pride in which the Japanese operate the service. Even riding in standard class makes you feel important.

  1. Royal Hudson Vancouver – Squamish – Vancouver (BC Rail, no longer in scheduled operation)

Before BC Rail had to take Hudson CP 2860 out of service (in need of a refit), I was fortunate enough to ride the train from Vancouver to Squamish and back. (And visited the West Coast Railway Association‘s Railway Heritage Park while I was at it.) The line running up the coast is full of wonderful twists and curves, and the view is fantastic. CP 2860 is now leased to the WCRA, who will hopefully run this service periodically with flair.

  1. Alberta Prairie Steam Tours w/ CN 6060 (Alberta Prairie Steam Railway)

I got to ride in the caboose, which regular folks don’t). Although it’s been a long time since I last helped out, I used to work on CN 6060 as an apprentice mechanic. After one such helping-out, I was offered a trip on its scheduled run — a mere 35 mile run to Big Valley and back. But I got to ride with my mentor, Don, in the caboose. Right next to CN 6060 on the way down, but at the end of the train on the way back. Very memorable, especially considering that I rode on a train pulled by CN 6060 when I was a young boy.

  1. Inverness – Edinburgh (First ScotRail)

This is a regularly-schedule service (multiple times a day, no less) between two of the three largest cities in Scotland. This service — a five-hour jaunt — runs through the Scottish highlands (you’ll see snow on those rolling mountains), through small villages, and across fantastic landscapes before coming down to the sea, and finally crossing the massive Fourth Bridge. Inverness itself is an excellent place to visit (very near Loch Ness!), and Edinburgh remains one of my favourite cities. It’s worth the trip, especially if you have a rail pass.

  1. Krazny Strelya (“Red Arrow”) St. Petersburg – Moscow (Rossiyskie Zheleznye Dorogi)

Curiously, I didn’t actually see much of this train. It was an overnight journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow. But I do remember it being an extremely nice train (apparently one of the two nicest on Russian railways), and it was the start of my St. Petersburg to Hong Kong overland odyssey. So it has a special place in my memory.

  1. Montreal – Toronto (VIA Rail)

This might sound extremely pedestrian, but I like this train. It’s a regular service (several times daily) that runs between two of Canada’s largest cities. It’s a 5-6 hour trip, which you can do faster if you fly. But you can’t do it more comfortably. And you don’t get to see the landscape that is the St. Lawrence Seaway region. It’s some of Canada’s oldest rail, and still some of the nicest.

These are the notable ones. There’s a host of other trains as well, such as commuter lines (GO Train, West Coast Express, BART, AMT, to name a few), local trains (such as most of Japan Rail, China’s Z1 line between Beijing and Tianjin, and certainly with the regional UK trains), and long distance trains within China, and the London – Glasgow/Edinburgh lines in the UK.

Since that covers most of my train-riding experiences, yes, you can assume that I generally quite line trains.

Are there ones I don’t like? Well, the one that comes most to mind is the section of the Trans-Siberian between Urkutsk and Ulan Ude. That is pretty darn lousy…