Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Tourism & Hospitality and The Traveling Life

Rail bonding: Train trips aren't just a thing of the past

March 30, 2009
Train travel is not only a thing of the past—it's also a thing of the present. It's enjoying resurgence as people rediscover the romance and excitement of riding the rails in their leisure travel and realize that getting there is more than half the fun.

My wife Katrina and I have taken four train trips in recent years that we can recommend. But you don't have to take our word for it. All four were selected for inclusion in the "top ten most exciting train journeys in the world" by the Society of American Travel Writers.

The Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad took us through Mexico's dramatic and scenic Copper Canyon. Think of our Grand Canyon—only larger and deeper. Copper Canyon is actually a series of canyons throughout the mystical Sierra Madre Mountains. The Tarahumara Indians have lived in that unforgiving, rugged environment in isolation for centuries. There are no roads or other access through the Canyon. If you want to go, it's either the rails or a rigorous hike.

An engineering marvel, the railroad took 90 years to build. Its tracks climb from sea level at Los Michos on the Pacific Ocean to 8,000 feet while coursing through 86 tunnels and over 37 trestle bridges, the longest of which spans 1,726 feet over the Rio Fuerte Chasm en route to Chihuahua.

The sights were ever changing and so magnificent that we hardly left the viewing car during the entire trip. Each view gave another reason why the 400 mile trip between Chihuahua City and Los Mochis is, according to Reader's Digest, "the most dramatic train ride in the western hemisphere."

The most dramatic moment, though, is unlikely (I hope) to occur on your trip. During an overnight stop in the town of Creel—which reminded us of the stereotypical early 20th century U.S. western town—our path was crossed by a pickup truck with two policemen in the front seat and a handcuffed man in the back. Suddenly, the incredibly agile prisoner jumped out of the moving truck and began to run. The truck came to a screeching stop and the policemen leaped out, running in full pursuit with guns drawn. What other train trip provides a real chase scene?

Another great train trip is to the north—the 2,700-mile, trans-Canada journey from Toronto to Vancouver. This three-nighter on Canada's national railway, VIA Rail, crosses through the Canadian heartland and includes vast prairies, the Canadian Shield (an area of pink, gray and black granite bedrock), dense forests, the snow capped mountains of the Canadian Rockies (lofty peaks and pristine valleys), lakes and oceans. It also passes through the quaint communities of Jasper, Lake Louise and Banff, Alpine scenery and the islands of the coastal city of Vancouver. Before and after the train journey, we toured the two great cities on either end-Toronto and Vancouver.

Comforts? Well, you do have your own sleeping cabin with use of showers down the hallway and meals in the dining car. And there's the Skyline car, a panoramic dome from which to view the passing scenery.

Want to stay stateside? A great U.S. trip is the Durango to Silverton ride on a narrow gauge steam train through the San Juan National Forest. Both Durango and Silverton were important towns in the gold- and silver-mining era. Today they are tourist attractions where visitors can enjoy a colorful bygone era of the old West.

This train hugs steep canyon walls as it winds its way for 45 miles and three hours through the Rio de las Animas Canyon with vistas of the snow-capped peaks of the San Juan Mountains. In Durango, the ride starts at an elevation of more than 6,500 feet and rises another 3,000 en route to Silverton on tracks laid in 1881.

The final trip is also in the U.S. The Adirondack, an Amtrak train operating daily between New York City and Montreal, covers 381 miles in nine-and-a-half hours, with stops in Poughkeepsie, Schenectady and Saratoga Springs. Fifty miles of the trip is along the scenic shoreline of Lake Champlain and through the Adirondack Mountains. The train has restored cars with large windows for great viewing and three cafe-lounge cars.

We recommend all of these great train trips as well as others we have taken, such as the ride through Canada's Agawa Canyon, the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams to Grand Canyon Village, the Pike's Peak Cog Railway, and any of the great European trains connecting practically every city on the continent.

Any of these trips will prove that the journey is as much fun as the destination.

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Basile is an author, professional speaker, philanthropist, community volunteer and retired executive of the Gene B. Glick Co. His column appears whenever there's a fifth Monday in the month. The next one will appear June 29. Basile can be reached at Frank_Basile@sbcglobal.net.
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