Rumblings of a railway renaissance have been swirling recently, thanks to a growing interest in sustainable transportation. And with new tracks being laid and upgraded trains to look forward to, post-pandemic travel could involve taking the scenic route more often.
More travelers are eyeing ways to not only make their future trips stress-free, but also more eco-conscious. Countries like Scotland and Spain have announced plans to roll out zero-emission hydrogen-powered trains. The European Commission has dubbed 2021 the European Year of Rail, which aligns with their goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Even President Joe Biden, who earned the nickname Amtrak Joe for having famously commuted by train for decades as a senator, promised a “second rail revolution” on his campaign trail.
While iconic passages like the Trans-Siberian Railway have long offered travelers an exciting way to traverse the countryside, new rail adventures are popping up around the world. Whether you’re planning to reduce your carbon footprint or dreaming of a sumptuous sleeping car, these routes may entice you to get on board with train travel once and for all.
Florence to Paris on the Orient-Express
No train does European glamour quite like Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. This year, the legendary locomotive is launching four new routes with boarding points in Rome, Florence, Geneva, and Brussels or Amsterdam. Operating between March and November, each one-night journey will have its highlights, but the Tuscan departure is unique as it combines a stay at a Belmond sister property. Guests can opt to begin their experience with a night at Castello di Casole in the countryside or at Villa San Michele, a 15th-century monastery-turned-hotel overlooking Florence. The views continue on board, with a winding tour through the Swiss mountains before arriving in Paris. Made up of 17 impeccably restored Art Deco carriages, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is famed for celebrating the bygone days of rail travel. Three new Grand Suites will debut in 2021—each featuring double beds instead of bunk beds, ensuite bathrooms, extra lounge space, and free-flowing champagne—fitting for a return to the roaring ’20s.
Colorado Rockies to the Red Rocks
Starting this summer, you’ll be able to appreciate the golden arches and vast canyons of the American Southwest from the comfort of a custom-designed glass-domed coach. The two-day Rockies to the Red Rocks journey will connect Moab, Utah, and Denver, and include an overnight hotel stay in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, to break up all the window-gazing. This is the first U.S. route for Rocky Mountaineer, an outfitter that first picked up steam for its luxury train trips in Western Canada. Extra attention went into choosing a rail line with spectacular views, as well as sourcing gourmet cuisine and finding on-board hosts versed in the region’s local flora and fauna and Indigenous communities. With a 10-week preview season launching in August and a five-month season planned for 2022, the return of the great American railroad trip is just around the corner.
A circuit around Japan’s Kyushu
Linking hot springs, dramatic mountains, and world-famous ramen stalls, the 36+3 sightseeing train debuted last fall, adding five new routes to Japan’s southernmost island. Each day trip connects to form a circuit around the perimeter of Kyushu island, with stops in all seven prefectures and varying highlights each day. The weekly Thursday departure from Hakata, for example, rewards guests with breathtaking views of the East China Sea. Meanwhile, Sunday’s departure from Beppu offers vistas of Beppu Bay and the mountainous Oita prefecture. The train itself is a treat for design lovers. A six-car locomotive, it’s outfitted with private compartments that can seat up to six people, a bar, a lounge, and aesthetic nods to the island’s traditional craftsmanship. With interiors by the same design team behind Kyushu’s famous Seven Stars sleeper train, there’s no bad seat in the house.
Ski resort hopping in Switzerland
Switzerland has no shortage of scenic rail routes, but the Goldenpass Express could make hopping between the ski resorts in Montreux, Gstaad, and Interlaken even more panoramic. The new locomotive by Italian design firm Pininfarina (best known for its Ferrari and Maserati cars) can effortlessly shift between a narrow and standard track gauge—meaning travelers will no longer have to change trains at Zweisimmen station. The real showstopper, though, is its floor-to-ceiling windows, which feature anti-reflection technology for optimal photo-taking onboard. With its grand debut scheduled for December 2022 and a promise of dramatic views of the Bernese Alps, this is one train ride worth waiting for.
The Red Sea to the Mediterranean
Exploring Egypt’s ancient monuments is about to get easier, as the country ushers in its first high-speed rail line, set to be completed in 2023. Spanning over 620 miles, the new system will connect the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and includes 15 stops along the way. This means that travelers won’t have to catch a domestic flight or navigate the country’s antiquated rail system when moving between Luxor and the Pyramids of Giza or hopping over to the resort town of Hurghada. Siemens, the German industrial manufacturing company behind the project, has started working on the first 285-mile stretch, which will run between El-Alamein on the Mediterranean Sea and Ain Sokhna on the Red Sea, while also passing through Cairo and the New Administrative Capital. And it won’t only be a boon for tourism. According to Michael Peter, CEO of Siemens Mobility, the hope is that the new line will also bring about a technology boost and create more local jobs in the country’s developing cities.
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