Though trains have successfully secured their place in the toddler’s imagination, for some reason, as childhood gives way to preteendom, the train goes the way of the wagon or the dollhouse, tucked away in the furthest reaches of the toy bin of the mind.
Considering the United States’ relative youth, it’s not surprising that the train has gotten much the same treatment in this coun-try as it’s received in playrooms the world over. Like any good adolescent, the U.S. quickly abandoned the charm and solid, salt-of-the-earth good looks of the train when the sexier and more scintillating automobile became a viable option for the masses. Despite the brief emergence of Harley Earl’s Aerotrain—built by GM in 1955—which, with its futuristic looks and 100 mph speeds, seemed to signal the dawning of a new era in train travel, trains in the U.S. have taken a backseat to the combustion engine, not to mention the big birds that fly overhead.
To compete, the little engines that could will have to prove that they can when it comes to convenience. Cars take you virtually anywhere you want to go—door to door! And while nobody likes waiting in line for a TSA official to scan their skeleton, airplanes have broken the sound barrier. So what’s a train to do? Simple: Fall back on what continues to mesmerize every toddler and causes romantics to sigh with nostalgia for a bygone era—the risk-free trifecta of charm, conve-nience, and comfort.
Some Trains Are Still Worth Riding
The California Zephyr travels from Chicago to San Francisco in just two nights, while the City of New Orleans leaves Chicago and cuts through Memphis on its way to the Big Easy.
Amtrak Acela Express
The high-speed Acela Express works its way across the Eastern Seaboard from D.C. to Boston at speeds of up to 150 mph.
Jump on the Eurostar at London’s Waterloo Station and travel at speeds up to 186 mph, reaching Paris’s Gare du Nord in less than three hours. www.eurostar.com
The Palace on Wheels
Strictly a tourist train, the Palace on Wheels travels from Jaipur to Jodhpur, India. This rolling mansion takes you through north-central India and stops in eight cities in seven days. www.thepalaceonwheels.com
Korea Rail Network Authority
Korea is serious about its trains, having just completed the initial phase of a new high-speed line that travels up to 186 mph from Seoul to Daegu. www.ktx.or.kr
Japan Railways Group
Though other countries can claim high-speed, effective rail travel, none has Japan’s history. For almost 40 years Japan has operated a series of high-speed lines (known as Shinkansen) that serve Japan’s distinct prefectures. www.japanrail.com