Archive for March 22nd, 2008

Top Ten Trains

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Fast trains are becoming cool! AskMen.com, an American lifestyle e-magazine usually more concerned with fast cars and fast women, has devoted three pages to reviewing the greatest trains in the world. It’s a great summary of the success that really high speed trains have become. Perhaps someone should send a copy to Ruth Kelly, the UK’s Secretary of State for Transport.

Here is their assessment. BTWT has not endorsed the list.

TGV.com

1 – TGV – France

The French sense of style extends to train travel, naturally, with a smooth and rapid way for locals and travelers to get around. Like the AVE mentioned earlier, the TGV is an acronym, in this case “train à grande vitesse,” or “high-speed train,” and rightly so. Testing found it to be the fastest wheeled train at 357 mph, and passenger runs hit 200 mph. The BBC’s Top Gear pitted its host in a race from London to Monte Carlo with the TGV versus Aston Martin DB9. While Jeremy Clarkson won at the wheel of the Aston, it wasn’t by much, and his driving skills are far superior to most of us hacks that watch him. For us mere mortals, it’s a far safer bet to relax and trust the TGV.

Top route: Lorraine – Champagne-Ardenne

JapanRail.com

2 – Japan Railways Group – Japan

Japan’s original 130-mph “bullet train” of 1964 has inspired imitators, but the country’s high-speed trains are still among the fastest and most technologically advanced. Today, they’re better known by their official name, Shinkansen, or New Trunk Line (signs and information printed in English may still refer to them as “Superexpress”). Call them whatever you like; they’re reliable, safe and fast. Passengers aren’t treated to the same 361-mph top speed achieved in testing, but 186 mph still isn’t bad. Anyway, a study several years ago found the average Shinkansen nailed its scheduled arrival time within six seconds.

Top route: Tokyo – Shin-Osaka

Eurostar.com

3 – Eurostar – England

There are Eurostar lines throughout the continent (go figure), and they’re some of the best ways to get around. It doesn’t hurt if you’re in a hurry. The 1,290-foot trains cruise up to 186 mph in certain areas, yet the only real confirmation of this from your seat is the blurred scenery. It makes sense that few trains arrive late. All speed aside, one route stands apart. While it doesn’t move all that fast, the view isn’t that great and it continually operates at a loss, it still one you can’t miss, and here’s why: it’s the trip through Channel Tunnel, with the journey beginning at London’s historic St. Pancras International train station and ending in Paris.

Top route: London – Paris

Bahn.de

4 – ICE/NachtZug – Germany

Like Italians, Germans know a thing or two about traveling rapidly. Unlike Italians, Germans have shown far greater acceptance of rail travel. Deutsche Bahn keeps passengers moving by day with their efficient and popular InterCityExpress, better known as ICE. For overnight trips, there’s the inviting NachtZug, or Night Train. Yes, many an overnight trip has been taken with Night Train, so don’t let the name give you the heebie-jeebies. After this Night Train experience, you’ll wake up refreshed with your internal organs in harmony and no holding cell in sight.

Top route: ICE “Sprinter”: Berlin – Frankfurt; NachtZug: Hagen – Prague

Wikimedia Commons

5 – TAV – Italy

In a country renowned for high-speed transportation, there are trains that uphold the tradition. The problem is that this has been a well-kept secret amongst many citizens, so TAV’s existence and growth merits recognition in itself. Like the majority of Americans, many Italians favour travelling by car or by plane. Trains are gaining popularity beyond intra-city use, and considerable efforts are being made to emulate and connect with Europe’s finest.

Top route: Rome – Florence

RZD.ru

6 – Russian Railways – Russia

If you have a lot of time on your hands and a burning desire to live the experience, you can sit on a train for almost 6,000 miles on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Incidentally, the state-owned railway’s spot on the countdown is largely in recognition of the ability to operate the challenging stretch under frequently adverse conditions. For the rest of us with more limited time, attention spans and vodka than that trip demands, this is still the way to go between the Russian areas you’ll want to cover on a visit. It beats renting a Lada, anyway.

Top route: St. Petersburg – Moscow

info.Korail.com

7 – KTX – South Korea

The Korea Train eXpress is a modern take on The Little Engine That Could. After the initial Seoul to Pusan route was finished in 2004, passenger numbers were short of expectations. That contributed to overall operational losses, and frequent train breakdowns didn’t help matters. Still, there’s progress. Line expansion is underway, and ridership is on the rise.

Top route: Seoul – Pusan

Renfe.es

8 – AVE – Spain

It’s a worthwhile pursuit to live up to one’s name in the transportation game, despite what Greyhound would have you believe. On the other end of the spectrum is AVE. There’s kind of a double meaning going on here, since “ave” is “bird” in Spanish, though this is really an acronym for Alta Velocidad Española (Spanish High Speed). The duality is real, though. For example, service from Madrid to Seville is so consistent, fares are refunded if the train arrives more than five minutes late.

Top route: Madrid – Seville

GSR.com.au

9 – Great Southern Rail Limited – Australia

Australian cities like Perth and Sydney are great to visit, but there’s so much more to the country. You need to see, well, the country. You could rent a ute, but all that driving is going to take a major chunk of time, even if you explore a region each time you visit. Your best bet is to span the continental coast and see a lot in-between on Great Southern Limited. Two of their three routes are long, multiday affairs, but given the accommodations and scenery, you probably won’t mind at all.

Top route: Perth – Sydney (Indian Pacific)

VR.fi

10 – VR – Finland

Scandinavia is generally underrated and under-visited, making it an unlikely place to bump into the familiar faces you’re trying to forget on vacation. Finland is one of those countries that just works; it’s exceptionally clean, efficient and trouble-free. The state-owned VR Group is no different. When you manage to pry yourself away from Helsinki, VR is probably the best way to take in the countryside as you tour outlying areas.

Top route: Helsinki – Iisalmi

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Lent ends tomorrow!

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Radom train at twilight

Twilight train on the W-wa Jeziorki blog

Many Poles are visiting their parish churches this morning with baskets of food, which are blessed by the priest (swieconka) and then become the centrepiece of the traditional breakfast meal on Easter Sunday. Catholics are supposed to have been abstaining from there hedonistic Polish lifestyles since Ash Wednesday. (Perhaps Mieczysław Olender, chairman of PCC Rail, should remind his staff?) In these materialist times not many bother to do so. It’s interesting to read about the experiences of someone who does takes their Lenten abstinence seriously. At this point BTWT readers may be wondering what all this has got to do with Polish Railways. Patience, dear reader, patience. Mike Dembinski not only runs the W-wa Jeziorki blog, but has been subjecting his body to the full rigours of strict Lenten abstinence. Read all about it here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Oh yes and Mike’s blog carries some interesting photography of the local railway scene as well!