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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 20, 2006

Train travel returns in all its glory

By Irene Croft Jr.

Train travel is experiencing a renaissance unequaled since its heyday in the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. Scores of compelling rail journeys are available worldwide, from the short and scenic to the wild and woolly to the luxe and leisurely. All have their boosters, but perhaps the most ardent passions are evoked by those trains that cater to nostalgia, romance and creature comforts. These are the great luxury trains that have endured, appeared or resurrected across the globe.

A local travel agent can arrange rail tours for you, or you can contact rail tour providers directly:

  • Blue Train. One of the first that comes to mind is South Africa's celebrated Blue Train (www.bluetrain.co.za), best-known for its 992-mile journey between Cape Town and Pretoria and reverse. Wine, fresh flowers, excellent cuisine, attentive service and handsomely appointed sleeper suites are hallmarks of this 26-hour rail voyage. The U.S. representative is Gabriella Truman, Trumarketing, Miami, (305) 864-4569.

  • Rovos Rail South Africa also boasts Rovos Rail (www.rovos .co.za), operator of the steam-powered Pride of Africa, billed as "the world's most luxurious train." A collection of restored turn-of-the-last-century cars, this charming train, with its spacious suites and delectable meals, will transport up to 72 travelers in sumptuous style to Kruger Park game reserves, to Capetown and Durban, to Namibia and Victoria Falls as well as on a multicountry odyssey to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. U.S. representative: Henry Kartagener, (631) 858-1270.

  • Orient Express. Trains bearing the evocative name of Orient Express now come in five appealing flavors. What they have in common are an ambience of glamour and luxe from an earlier age, beautifully refurbished cars from the '20s to the '50s and riveting rail routes. Contact VSOE, (800) 524-2420 or www.orient-express.com, for details and bookings on: the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which will take you to the premier cities of western and eastern Europe; the Eastern & Oriental Express, which steams between Singapore and Bangkok; the British Pullman and Northern Belle, which explore the United Kingdom; and, in Peru, the Hiram Bingham, which will transport you from Cusco to ancient Machu Picchu.

  • GrandLuxe Rail Journeys. GrandLuxe, formerly American Orient Express, brings to life the rail's golden age in a gleaming, exquisitely renovated Art Deco-style train that offers all-inclusive journeys through the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Information: (800) 320-4206 or americanorientexpress.com.

  • Royal Scotsman. The British Isles are home to the refined 36-passenger Royal Scotsman (royalscotsman.com), with its well-appointed staterooms, two dining rooms and an observation car on its one- to seven-night journeys through the heart of Scotland. Information: Abercrombie & Kent, (800) 554-7016 or www.abercrombiekent.com.

  • Andalusian Express and Transcantabrico. Spain boasts two entries in the luxe-and-leisurely rail market. The spectacular Belle Epoque-style Andalusian Express, www.alanda lusexpreso.com, features meticulously restored 1920s rail carriages. Offering suites with private baths and deluxe double cabins, this 74-guest train boasts such fine artwork, polished wood and Lalique glass. Glorious cuisine, service and scenery are top features of the popular six-day roundtrip from Seville. Spain's northern coast along the Bay of Biscay, and including Bilbao for the Guggenheim Museum, is covered by the atmospheric Transcantabrico (www.transcantabrico.com). Information: Marketing Ahead, (800) 223-1356 or www.mark etingahead.com.

  • Via Rail. Canada's Via Rail (888) 842-7245 or www.viarail .ca), is a top luxury contender with its highly acclaimed Silver and Blue Class aboard The Canadian. These sleek 1950s stainless steel cars offer classic transcontinental as well as shorter journeys. Competing for Canada's rail crown is the Royal Canadian Pacific, (877) 665-3044 or www8.cpr.ca, with its exquisitely restored parlor cars from the early 20th century. It offers a half-dozen scenic and well-designed itineraries through the Canadian Rockies.

  • Australia's trains. Australia is famed for its deluxe long-distance trains: the Indian Pacific, running 2,461 miles between Sydney and Perth, and The Ghan, operating on a 1,847-mile track between Adelaide, Alice Springs in the heart of the Outback, and the new extension to Darwin on the Top End. Information: ATS Tours, (800) 423-2880 or www.atstours.com.

  • India's trains. India hosts three premier trains that provide alternative itineraries for viewing some of the subcontinent's most dazzling sites. The celebrated Palace on Wheels (www.palaceonwheels.net) now comprises all-new, air-conditioned coaches that replicate private rail cars of the Raj. Its seven-night posh adventures from Delhi to Agra highlight the palaces and fortresses and wildlife of the princely regions of northern India. Refitted from 13 private salon cars once owned by the maharajas and viceroys of India, the Royal Orient (www.indianrail.gov.in) boasts polished teak, velvet upholstery, carved wood ceilings and air conditioning. This train offers a historic route through Rajasthan, Gujarat and Agra on a seven-day return trip from Delhi. Deccan Odyssey (www.maharashtratourism.gov.in), the country's newest luxury train, features 8-day heritage rail journeys through Maharashtra and Goa, roundtrip from Bombay. Information: Cox & Kings, (800) 999-1758 or www.coxandkingsusa.com.

  • Mir Corp. Top-rated tour operator Mir Corporation, (800) 424-7289 or www.mircorp.com, offers once-in-a-lifetime all-inclusive rail journeys by private train on exotic, dreamweaver routes: Trans-Siberian (Moscow to Mongolia and China), Silk Road (Russia, the Stans and China), and Shangri-la Express (China, Tibet and Russia).

    Irene Croft Jr. of Kailua, Kona, is a travel writer and 40-year veteran globetrotter. Her column is published in this section every other week.