As we’ve discussed before, train travel is my favourite mode of transport. But I’ve been fascinated by something called “named passenger trains” – or the famous trains, as it were, since most of the famous trains have names. But which came first, the fame or the name?
The reality is they go hand in hand. Lots of trains have been ‘named’ over the years, and even some of the more famous trains have went through several names. And trains without names often get named anyway – travel magazines like this one have to have something to call them, right?
So, if you’re thinking that a train getaway might be something you’re interested in, here are some recommendations for the world’s best named passenger trains and famous trains. I’ve been on many, but not all – but I know for a fact you won’t have a bad experience on any of these classic rides.
The Ocean, commonly called the Maritime Express, is one of Canada’s classic rail journeys and one of a couple of the country’s named passenger trains. It’s one of the world’s famous trains because of a couple of reason: one is this incredible view that you can get from the Park Car, a ‘bubble’ bar at the back of the train. It’s very cool to look at the rail signals and the great perspective you have on the little towns as they fly by. The second reason? You depart Montreal in the evening, and then wake up the next morning with the most incredible view of the rural Maritimes (depending on how late you sleep, you might be in Quebec or New Brunswick). The best way to wake up ever!
The Eastern and Oriental Express
If you’ve heard of any of these famous trains, it’s this one. You more than likely know about the Orient Express, but did you know there are several named passenger trains under this brand? My recommendation is the Eastern & Oriental Express which takes you from Thailand, down through Malaysia, and into Singapore. These is a fantastic area of Asia and a great way to explore some of these areas. It’s one of the best luxury train experiences as well – an experience not to forget!
As far as named passenger trains go, you don’t get better branded than this. The Canadian is VIA Rail’s flagship rail service from Vancouver to Toronto, and considered by many travellers as one best train experiences in general, let alone the incredible views, particularly as you pass through the Canadian Rockies. One of the famous trains for good reason – a timeless trip.
New Zealand doesn’t have very many trains, and the few that it does are named passenger trains. The TranzAlpine crosses through the middle of the south island, and for those trying to explore south island without a car, it’s actually a useful transport route. It’s one of the more famous trains of the country just because it has incredible views and traverses some crazy rail bridges – very cool.
The Indian Pacific
As one of the longest named passenger trains (in terms of route), the Indian Pacific carries you almost 3 thousand miles across the entire continent of Australia, from Perth to Sydney. Travelling this far on rails might seem onerous, but getting anywhere in Australia takes awhile, so you might as well enjoy yourself and travel in style. It’s one of the more famous trains to travel on Christmas, where the train stops in cities along the way to host festivals and singing as a way to thank the cities along the route that support it. There’s usually an Aussie celeb or two involved.
The Blue Train
This is one of the named passenger trains that just exudes luxury and style. It is truly one of the world’s most famous trains and it is a huge bucket list item for me. The train has had a few different routes over the years, but at the moment the key flagship line is Pretoria-Cape Town; if you see the interior furnishings, you would think you are in a high rise luxury hotel because they’re very much about the train experience. One word: fabulous.
The Lunatic Express
As named passenger trains go, this one certainly has the most unique monkier, though it’s not one of the more famous trains as compared to others. The Lunatic Express connects Uganda to Kenya, and the name comes from criticism that it received at the time, as it was felt the idea of a rail line in this area was forced upon them by British influencers from afar. Despite the distractions and many construction difficulties – including man eating lions! – the railway launched and has continued to maintain its quality service, despite hiccups in the political situation of the area. It’s responsible for the development of several cities along the route,
One of the famous trains of Great Britain is one of the few named passenger trains with a couple of names. The Jacobite is the most scenic of railways in the UK, so iconic that it’s been called the Harry Potter Railway (even though it existed long before those books came out). The route, from Fort William near Glasgow up to Mallig in the Highlands, was originally a railway to take people to the islands of the East Coast. The most noteworthy point is the Glenfinnan Viaduct, probably the most photographed stretch of railway in the world.
The Empire Builder
I wasn’t familiar with many of the named passenger trains in the United States (there are several), but Chris Guillebeau mentioned this train, which has a very cool name. It follows the trail of explorers Lewis and Clark from Chicago to Seattle/Portland on the west coast. The Gassman Coulee Trestle is a beautiful bridge that you’ll cross along the way, and of course similar to The Canadian, you get some incredible mountain views. As you can see from the picture above, this gem of the famous trains not only has picture windows, but seats that face the view. Cool.
The Glacier Express
Europe has a massive number of named passenger trains – and a lot of railways in general, famous trains and not, but there’s one route that sticks out in my mind, Switzerland’s Glacier Express. Winding its way through the alps from St. Moritz to Zermatt, home of the iconic Matterhorn, this is the only way to travel. Much of the route is very snowy even during the summer, so you’ll get fantastic views year round. Plus it’s hassle free travel. It’s purely for tourism so at times it can feel a little touristy, but once you look out your picture window, you’ll not notice.
The last of our named passenger trains is also, unsurprisingly, one of the most famous trains in the world, the Trans-Siberian railway. Starting in Saint Petersburg or Moscow, the train traverses across Asia and terminates in the Pacific port town of Vladivostok. There are also alternative trains that go all the way to Beijing, China and Pyongyang, North Korea. At approx. 5,700 miles long, it is the world’s longest railway. It’s actually more popular as a transport option for locals rather than foreigners, and besides passengers the rails are important for goods transportation. For many, this is the ultimate train travel trip, so if you’ve got the time, get a ticket.